When Right Is Wrong

Stephen Sawyer
Stephen Sawyer
Stephen Sawyer of Ellenville, New York was a volunteer EMT and squad leader with the Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad until the 20-year-old man was fired for saving a 4-year-old boy experiencing seizures. | Photo: Associated Press | Link | Stephen Sawyer, Emt, Rescue, Glasses, Seizure,

Why 20-Year-Old Stephen Sawyer Resigned

Rules and regulations have a purpose and I appreciate that. However, I also know that sometimes you have to break the rules to do the right thing, in an emergency for example. Take the rule instituted by the Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad in Ellenville, NY. It says that a person must be 21 years old to drive an ambulance. So, why is Stephen Sawyer, a 20-year-old EMT who resigned after being handed a 60-day suspension for breaking a rule out of a job?

Sawyer, a Rescue Squad volunteer, was by himself at the Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad's headquarters on December 11, 2013. A call came in about a seizing child. There was a paramedic at the house but the child needed to go to a hospital. There was an ambulance available but no one, aside from Sawyer, to drive the ambulance to the scene. Over the next 15 minutes, as the story goes, he went through all the resources he knew of, attempting to find someone over 21 who was available to drive the ambulance, to no avail. Out of options, he was faced with a decision.

Do nothing and let a 4-year-old who's seizing continue to do so or break the rule, get the child, the paramedic on scene and the child's mother and take them to the nearest medical center? He chose to break the rule. His breaking the rule very likely saved the child's life.

The Ellenville Board of Directors suspended Sawyer and revoked his title. He has since resigned. The captain of the Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad, John Gavaris, who is also a member of the Board, thinks this story doesn't merit further discussion and is quoted as telling the local paper, the Times Herald-Record, "It seems very black and white, and it's not very black and white. This is the type of story that the public doesn't need to be told. There's no value to this story other than shock value and gossip."

With due respect, I'd like to know why he thinks this story doesn't merit telling? Is he embarrassed? I would be. Did he, or the board, perhaps overreact? I think they did. Furthermore, it's either black and white or it's not. You can't have it both ways. A courageous young man, the aforementioned Mr. Sawyer, made a brave decision that turned out to be the right decision.

So, what's the difference between a 20-year-old and a 21-year-old? I'm sure in the eyes of the parents of the seizing 4-year-old, there is no difference. I know a lot of people twice that old who can't drive a car correctly, let alone an SUV or an ambulance.

The way I see it, there is value in this story. Maybe the board should be asking why there weren't enough volunteers available to respond to such a call. Who's responsible for staffing the squad properly? Does that fall to Mr. Gavaris? Is that why he'd rather this story not be told? Did someone overreact?

In addition, why was this young man in this situation in the first place? It seems to me that if you have a volunteer rescue squad, should you not have enough personnel to staff said squad so the rules may be followed? Maybe people are on-call to come in when a call comes in.

Further, as first reported by the Times Herald-Record, Gavaris originally said that he couldn't discuss the story because it was a personnel matter but then said that Sawyer was offered a suspension because of a "culmination of different events". However, he couldn't elaborate on those events. So, first you can't discuss it because it's a personnel matter, which is understandable. Then you can discuss it long enough to justify the suspension, but then you can't detail the 'different events' you're bringing forth to justify the suspension. Through all of that, according to the paper, Sawyer is only aware of one minor incident a year ago. Am I the only one having a "do what?!" moment?

I don't know either man personally but, having read the entire story, my gut tells me Sawyer is a good, honest, upstanding, well-trained citizen who has a lot to offer his community. He was courageous and did the right thing in a tenuous situation. Why not let that light shine, as opposed to heaping seemingly unfounded negativity on him?

So, it seems like the captain of the Rescue Squad is embarrassed and trying to stop the bleeding. Maybe someone made a mistake and left the Rescue Squad understaffed? Or maybe someone's ego got in the way? What should have been a simple reprimand became a suspension, and to what end?

I see both men's points of view. Rules are in place for a reason and Sawyer broke a rule. But does the rule need to be reexamined?

The only way this story doesn't need to be told is if someone is embarrassed by their decision. Common sense told Sawyer to do the right thing, which he did. I think everybody involved in the decision to suspend Sawyer needs a mirror and a lesson in common sense.

I see an opportunity to learn some lessons here. First, who determines the staffing for the Rescue Squad, how can scheduling be improved in the future so there is proper staffing at all times, and, if something happens and it isn't or can't be properly staffed, what's the back-up plan? Next, bring Stephen Sawyer back, and, finally, do a review of the rules for commonsense considerations.

Gavaris is right. This isn't about shock value or gossip. It's about well-trained young man taking a risk, doing the right thing by his conscience and a seizing 4-year-old, and a captain who apparently questioned everything about the young man's choice. I think someone needs to grow up. I'll let you decide who.

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Updated May 22, 2018 6:39 PM UTC | More details


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