Every day, first responders put their lives on the line to protect others, arming themselves with vigorous training to strengthen their bodies and to develop an innate ability to “see around corners.” But COVID-19 has proven to be a formidable foe, even to the strongest and most battle-hardened.
This year, the Houston Fire Department (HFD) has lost three firefighters, HFD Firefighter Paramedic Jerry Pacheco, HFD Captain Leroy Lucio and HFD Captain Tommy Searcy, from complications of COVID-19. According to FEMA, COVID-19 may double the overall line-of-duty deaths among first responders during the pandemic.
On September 11, 2020, Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital hosted a ceremony to honor the service and sacrifice of law enforcement, military, fire fighters and first responders, past and present, including the hospital’s EMS partners and the three HFD firefighters who lost their lives to COVID-19.
The event, held in the hospital’s parking lot, included a leadership welcome, presentation of the flags, presentation of plaques to the ten EMS agencies in attendance, and moments of silence to pay tribute to the victims and to honor the survivors of the September 11 attacks. About 50 people were in attendance, including hospital administrators and staff, physicians, first responders and members of the local community.
Jennifer Cole, RN, ER charge nurse and EMS liaison at Memorial Hermann Northeast, says the 9/11 event tied in with another, ongoing initiative at Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital. For over six years, local EMS partners, physicians, hospital staff members and even patients have hand-painted ceiling tiles that are placed throughout the hospital’s Emergency Center.
“A trip to the ER can be a very stressful experience for patients and their families,” says Cole. “The painted ceiling tiles provide a positive diversion, allowing our patients to visualize something other than a plain ceiling while they are lying on the stretcher. It gives them something to talk about, look at, and provides happiness to the patients and the children.”
Over the years, contributors have created a wide range of tiles, from Nemo to Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. Lately, Cole has been encouraging the hospital’s EMS partners to paint tiles depicting their agency logos and their interpretations of the EMS Star of Life.
The crew of HFD Station 101, located in Kingwood, were invited to the 9/11 dedication to view the ceiling tile to be hung in the hospital’s ER in honor of Pacheco. Cole says tiles honoring Lucio and Searcy have also been created.
The EMS tile painting activity is part of a broader effort at Memorial Hermann Northeast, called the EMS Focus Group, to strengthen ties between the hospital’s ER staff and their EMS partners.
Cole says before the pandemic, members of the group, which includes ER staff and EMS partners, got together for social activities, including a mix and mingle at Top Golf, to get to know one another a little better. In addition, Cole made regular visits to local EMS agencies and HFD stations. Since COVID-19 hit, she says, most of the group’s interactions have been via Zoom meetings. She hopes to resume in-person meet-ups when it’s safe to do so.
“We started the group to get our EMS partners more involved in our ER because they are a part of us,” says Cole, who has an EMS background herself. “They are both our partners and our family.”
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