The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has centered an entire education program on how Talk Saves Lives. Sean Fuller, a paramedic and field training officer with American Medical Response (AMR) in Clackamas County, Oregon, hasn’t taken that course—but maybe he could teach it. Fuller instinctively knew that relating to a person in crisis through conversation was the best way calm them and get them the medical attention they needed. His efforts likely saved a life, eased a tense situation for law enforcement and hospital staff, and were ultimately recognized by the American Ambulance Association (AAA) with their highest award.
Fuller was dispatched to the scene of the suicide attempt and was amazed to find he recognized the house. A Portland native who grew up a handful of miles from the Clackamas AMR operation, he knew the previous owners of the home—the family of one his childhood friends. This seemingly innocuous coincidence would turn out to be a critical factor in the positive outcome of the call.
A Fragile State of Mind
The patient was in fragile state of mind: distraught and combative. It was difficult to administer the medical care necessary before transport to a local hospital and the situation was tense with a police presence. Fuller’s supervisors would later highlight the humanity that he brought to that situation, which can be edgy and difficult for patient and first responder alike.
As it turned out, Fuller was a calming influence, talking with the patient and deescalating the situation, ultimately getting them the help they needed. He did this by regaling the patient with stories of his and his friend’s exploits in that house. Playing cards at the dining room table with his buddy’s grandparents, of carefree youth and the blessings of family and friends.
“It was a unique set of circumstances where I was able to connect with our patient on a personal level, which helped bring them back to a mental and emotional place where they were open to the help we could provide and where they could be transported safely to get higher levels of care,” said Fuller.
Laughter and Healing
By the time they arrived at the hospital, the patient had not only calmed down they were laughing along with Fuller’s stories. The hospital staff were encouraged enough to remove the patient’s restraints that had been deemed necessary at the scene of the call, freeing them to begin the necessary medical care and perhaps putting the patient on a path to the mental healthcare they needed, as well.
As a result, of his “talk-therapy” heroics, Fuller was recognized by the AAA as a 2023 Star of Life, a national program that honors EMS first responders who have completed extraordinary acts of service for their patients, colleagues, communities or the EMS profession. Fuller and his fellow honorees from across the country were recognized at Awards Ceremony, in Washington, D.C. in November.
“This award is among the highest honors an EMS professional can receive,” said Jason Mahle, operations manager for AMR. “Sean is a Portland native and represents our region with honor, skill and compassion every single day. He deserves this national recognition for his outstanding efforts, saving a life in a very tense situation.”
“I’m very proud to be recognized by Global Medical Response and the American Ambulance Association as a Star of Life. Moving forward, it’s an honor I hope to keep earning, day in and day out for the people of Clackamas County.”