12/04/07 — EMS staff will add two officers to responses

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EMS staff will add two officers to responses

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 4, 2007 2:12 PM

With an eye toward further protecting its officers and county residents, the Wayne County SWAT team has added two new members. And while they will eventually be carrying weapons, as paramedics with the county Emergency Medical Services Department, they will also be carrying medical and rescue equipment.

For Trey Rhodes and Joey Sutton, who have 44 years of EMS experience between them, it's a new role, but one both say they are comfortable with.

"In the early '80s, scene safety for EMS wasn't that big," Sutton said.

He explained that earlier in their careers in Lenoir County, it wasn't at all unusual for the ambulance to be at the scene of a shooting or some other crime, even while police were still securing the area.

"That was always normal for me," he said.

And so, the two paramedics are not at all worried about the potential danger.

"I've been shot at two times," Rhodes said. "Over the years, we've grown accustomed to hostile environments."

To help further prepare them, though, the pair recently completed 60 hours worth of tactical emergency medical services training.

There, Rhodes explained, they were basically taught the role of a combat medic and how to safely move with the other 14 members of the Special Weapons and Tactics team.

In addition, Sheriff Carey Winders added, now that the pair has been sworn in as special deputies with all the authorities and powers of regular deputies, they also will be attending basic law enforcement training.

"They'll learn to be aware of their surroundings and how to protect themselves," he said. "They won't be in the way. They'll know what role to play and where to be."

As part of the team, their responsibilities will include not only caring for officers and victims during emergency situations, but also for the team during its monthly training exercises.

County EMS director Blair Tyndall explained that Rhodes and Sutton were picked for the team because they are the county's longest certified paramedics.

"It's a big asset for our team in case one of us gets hurt, whether in training or an actual situation," SWAT team advisor Capt. Daryll Overton said. "They're able to go into the field with us and stay with us."

Until now, Tyndall explained that when the SWAT team was called out, EMS would follow, but would maintain their distance until the scene was safe enough to approach. Now, he added, there will no longer be that delay in response.

Typically the SWAT team responds to about 10 calls a year, including hostage situations, high-risk searches and drug raids.

And while they haven't suffered any serious injuries in recent years, either in training or during a situation, Winders said he feels better knowing that medical care will now be on hand.

"We've been very fortunate we haven't had anybody hurt," he said. "But any situation presents itself with potential for danger."