Giving the gift of life -- again and again


March 16, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

Of late, it has been a mixed mailbag for Capt. Charles "Chuck" T. King Jr.

On the one hand, the 48-year-old Glenwood resident received a letter announcing that he has been selected by the American Legion to receive the Department of Maryland 2006 Career EMS (Emergency Medical Services) of the Year award.

Then, there is the following note from his daughters, Rachel, 8, and Nicole, 6, a.k.a. "Pickles."

"Dear Daddy... We are asking you if you can take more time off. ...We know people come up to you and say can you do this and that because you are a hard worker. If we were you, we would say no. ... Can we go and ride on your boat? We love you! Love, Rachel & Pickles"

It is not easy to be so committed to public service.

Yet King's time-intensive contributions are what earned him the American Legion statewide award.

Bill Milligan, chairman of the public safety committee for the American Legion Department of Maryland, said that the award's criteria include community service, meritorious citations, a specific act or acts of heroism, career achievements and letters of recommendation. After nominees pass the rigorous county level, they are judged again against those from seven geographical districts across the state.

King's selection for the state of Maryland by the final committee was unanimous. He will receive the award July 12 in Ocean City.

"First of all, this award means something extra special to me because I'm a veteran," said King. "And it's nice to be recognized by an organization that values service."

A 1976 graduate of Wilde Lake High School, King has been involved in public service since Oct. 4, 1976, when he enlisted in the Army two days after his 18th birthday. King became a military policeman. After finishing his tour of duty, he returned to Howard County to look for a job in civilian law enforcement, but he was rejected because he wore glasses.

In 1985, after trying a few security and law enforcement positions in the state, King became a volunteer firefighter at the Banneker Station in Columbia. He then enrolled in the Howard County Firefighter EMT program, continuing his education in Advanced Life Support at Essex Community College. He graduated with Howard County Fire and Rescue Class No. 4 in 1987 at the age of 28.

"Everyone has a job that contributes to society," said King, "but this job is one where you never know what the next day is going to bring. It's always hands-on, always challenging."

His statement underscores why he spent more than a decade in the field as a paramedic and field supervisor before accepting his current position in 2004.

King is special-events coordinator for the department, which involves much more than planning for EMS coverage at mass-attendance events such as Merriweather Post Pavilion concerts.

He is in charge of infection control for the combined department of career and volunteer members, which number nearly 1,000.

King is also the quality-assurance coordinator. When an EMT performs a procedure such as inserting a tube, it is reviewed and recorded in a database. King serves as the legal liaison with the court system and also as a social services liaison. Sometimes, for example, an EMT on a call may discover a citizen has had little or no food.

"If they [EMTs in the field] felt it was important enough to write down on a piece of paper or to send me an e-mail at 11:30 at night, I owe it to that provider and that citizen to do all I can to resolve the situation," King said.

It is clearly more than a 9-to-5 job.

King also serves on the Maryland Task Force II Urban Search and Rescue Team and works as a paramedic whenever needed. In his spare time, he develops relationships with vendors to stay on top of innovations in emergency medicine.

"Right now, we [Howard County] are one of two [EMS organizations] in the world testing a new version of a mechanical CPR device," he said. King said the device provides citizens with more consistent compressions and EMTs with a greater measure of safety, because they can wear seat belts in an ambulance while administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

It is safe to say that King knows CPR. In 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999, he received the Gift of Life award, presented to an individual who has treated a victim who is neither breathing nor has a heartbeat.

The county's Fire and Rescue Training Academy works with recruits over six months to prepare them for dire situations. The minimum level for an EMT is the "first responder," which includes advanced first aid and CPR. Next is the emergency medical technician basic level, and then the advanced life support level -- subdivided into the EMT "I" or intermediate, and the EMT "P" or paramedic, often known as a "road doctor." This level, attained by King, requires approximately 2,131 hours of training.

"The physical standards are stringent," King said. "And then there is the EMT portion, which is academically challenging." The job also requires a proximity to death that can take an emotional toll.

"I have avoided certain intersections for a period of time or deliberately looked away because of the memories it brings back," said King. "Sometimes I'll see a particular car and recall an unfortunate incident."

He added: "It's not just a job, not just a calling. It's a lifestyle. You work shifts of 24 hours on and 48 off, one every three days. That means I spend a third of my life in that firehouse. We call it a family or brotherhood, and people sort of understand. But very shortly you learn everything about these people. They are your family. You see them more than you see most of your relatives."

It's a good thing Teresa, King's wife of 14 years, understands. She is a career firefighter and paramedic at the Skaggsville station.

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