We’re Here to Save Your Life – Henrico’s LGBT Emergency Medical Technicians
I’m in the back of a Lakeside ambulance and I’m speeding down I-95. I’m not hurt or sick, thankfully, but I’m on my way to help someone who is. Well, all right, I’m not there to help, I’m there to observe.
In the front seat of the massive white and neon vehicle sit Andy Inge and Travis Gortney, and in the back with me are two other volunteers, Adam and Christian. It’s only been a few minutes and I’m already holding my stomach thinking I’m not cut out for this kind of work. Adam laughs and says he threw up on his first ride along too.
We stop at a tiny bungalow in in Richmond’s Northside–really Henrico. The four-man team expertly opens the doors, unloads boxes and a stretcher, gathers their gear and heads into the house to find an older woman in bed, with her concerned family pacing. Some basic info is given to Inge and Gortney, as they get a bit of medical history from the deteriorating older woman who could be anybody’s grandma.
Inge and Gortney
“Most of our population in Lakeside is either older or much younger,” says Inge to me in an interview after my ride-along. Thankfully, I don’t see any blood that night; I only stick around for two rides before I end up almost keeled over. But Inge, who has worked as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMS) for about 14 years, says he’s seen some terrible things.
What makes Inge’s story unique is he’s openly gay, and has been for most of his time with his EMS work at the Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad. And he’s not the only one – of the 62 EMTs at Lakeside, Inge says 14 are LGB or T.
“A lot of us are honed on public service, and volunteering,” said Inge when he tried to explain why he thought so many LGBT folks were involved in volunteer EMS work. “We as a culture are more into the freedom to love, and openly loving each other… I think that lends to our nurture/nature traits.”
Gortney, who’s been an EMT since he was 16 and is also gay, wasn’t quite sure if that’s why EMTs were LGBT in such a high numbers, but he said the Lakeside EMS facility has been particularly friendly.
“I think Lakeside in general has always promoted acceptance,” said Gortney. “Which in turn has people wanting to be there, and encouraging people they know to ride along, get involved, or join the squad.”
“It’s more known now than it was back in the day,” said Doug Davies, President of Lakeside Volunteer Rescue Squad. “But the way things are now, people are open now and I don’t see where it’s been an issue.”
Davies, a 30 year veteran of EMS work, heads up the Lakeside facility. He’s seen the field change, and he’s happy to see the growth that’s occurred. ”Patient care is patient care. Your sexual orientation isn’t an issue here.”
In a life-threatening situation where you might need to call EMS, you’d hope the sexuality of your EMT doesn’t play a role, but Inge said when it happens, it can go either way.
One time a particularly intoxicated woman was caught speeding by local police. She told the police she was headed to the hospital and they offered to call her an ambulance instead of going to jail. Once Inge and another openly gay EMT got the women in the back of the ambulance and she picked up on their sexual orientation, things started to get a little dark.
“I don’t want you gays touching me,” said the drunk woman, according to Inge, at which point he was happy to oblige the woman’s request.
“Given the options provided to the patient, the patient ended up going to jail for a DUI instead of going to the hospital,” Inge said, laughing.
This was one of the few times his sexuality affected his work negatively. On the flip side of the coin, Inge remembered a time when he responded to an attempted suicide call at a house and found a young woman who had tried to overdose on pills.
The girl mentioned her parents didn’t understand her or accept her “lifestyle,” and Inge was working with ROSMY at the time. He mentioned the support group to the girl and offered the medical help she needed.
“There’s good and bad…” said Inge. “When [it's good], it makes a big difference in a provider’s willingness to continue.”
And he’s seen some of the worst things possible for someone working in the emergency response field.
Shortly after he starting working in the EMT field, Inge responded to a traffic crash in the far West End. It was between a school bus and a car full of Tucker High school students, the school he had just graduated from.
“It took a little toll on me for a while,” said Inge when he realized he knew some of the folks involved in the crash. “It was the only time I questioned if I was in it to be in [EMS work].”
It’s those rough days, the calls that make you say “whoa,” which have changed Inge’s view on life since joining an EMS squad. “Anything can happen at any time in a person’s life,” he said.
“But you have other days where you get to help andsavesomeone’s life,” he said, lightening the mood. “Whether I see this person again or not, they know I was there for them, and I know I did my best and there was a good result out of it.”
Interested in having a similar feeling? Inge, Gortney, and Davies would love to welcome you aboard over at Lakeside EMS. Davies in particular said it’s hard to recruit folks these days.
But anyone can join. Training typically takes five months, with two nights a week for 4-5 hour sessions, and occasional Saturday classes for basic EMT training. Find out more info here.
“Don’t be afraid to jump in feet first,” was Gortney’s advice for those thinking about getting involved. “We are all in the business of helping people.”
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