This is a one of three stories about unsung heroes, with ‘lyrics’ focused on airplane crashes, heart attacks and house fires. We’re also singing the tune of heroes in their own lives. Finally, this hero playlist rounds out with hero sandwich recommendations and a list of do-gooders drawn from the Red Cross.
During his junior year at Timpview High, Ryan Kimball lit his desire to be a firefighter when he job-shadowed the Provo Fire Department. Ryan followed that prescribed path and now works as a Lehi firefighter. His off-duty heroics were called upon in January in the unforgiving terrain of American Fork Canyon where he rescued an American Fork hiker suffering a heart attack.
Like many firefighter/paramedics in Utah Valley, Ryan Kimball works part-time for a second agency when he’s off from his full-time post as a Lehi firefighter. Ryan’s moonlighting opportunity doubles as his dream job — working as a paramedic on the LifeFlight team for Intermountain.
“For me, being a medical helicopter paramedic is the pinnacle,” he says. “It’s the chance to help people in the most intense situations.”
Case in point? Ryan flew into action when American Fork’s Rick Ellison and his son were hiking in American Fork Canyon — and Rick went into cardiac arrest.
[pullquote]“It was steep, so we landed where it was safe and I grabbed some gear — oxygen, a defibrillator and some first aid supplies — and started hiking up the mountain to get to him.” —Ryan Kimball, Intermountain LifeFlight paramedic[/pullquote]
While life-saving professionals from a number of agencies — including Utah County Sheriff Search and Rescue, Lone Peak Fire Department — worked on a system to get the patient off the mountain, Ryan and the LifeFlight team touched down in a safe zone about 50 feet below Rick.
“It was steep, so we landed where it was safe and I grabbed some gear — oxygen, a defibrillator and some first aid supplies — and started hiking up the mountain to get to him,” Ryan says.
As a paramedic, Ryan knew additional help was on the way, but time was of the essence and he had to make the best use of his limited supplies and lack of co-workers on the spot — so he put Rick’s son to work keeping his dad alive.
“I had to quickly assess what was needed and what equipment I had with me,” Ryan says. “I had Rick’s son give CPR while I got the defibrillator ready to go.”
After a few minutes, Ryan re-established a consistent heartbeat rhythm and then worked to keep Rick warm until more help could come.
While search-and-rescue crews were deciding on a solution to get Rick down from the mountain, the pleasant hum from another LifeFlight helicopter — this one with hoist equipment for just such an occasion — was coming south from McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.
“It was really a team effort and that’s why I love my job,” Ryan says. “There’s a real brotherhood that comes from working with such a great group.”
Eventually, crews transported Rick to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center and had the catheterization laboratory prepared for his arrival.
The next day, Ryan was working another LifeFlight shift and stopped in the hospital to visit Rick — and meet his wife. It was a rewarding bookend to an exhausting experience.
“This line of work comes with gratification,” Ryan says. “I have a skill set that sustains life, and I’m just glad I can help the community.”
Even on unfortunate calls where his life-saving skills can’t change the outcome, Ryan finds someone else at the scene who could use a compassionate face. Recently, he was called to a fatality, but comforted the surviving driver who was struggling with what happened.
“If I can’t help the person we got called for, I will turn my attention to helping anyone else who was affected,” he says.
In turn, the close-knit firefighter community looks out for each other.
“It’s a brotherhood, and in such a small community we’re tied together by what we do,” Ryan says. “I trust these people. They have my back.”
For example, when Ryan had a particularly challenging shift — two fatality calls back-to-back, including a 3-year-old — he received numerous texts and calls from other emergency services workers.
“The way I deal with the sadness we see is to help more people and be alongside my team,” Ryan says. “My therapy is going back to work.”
While firefighters are frequently considered local heroes, Ryan believes there are all kinds of heroes doing all kinds of things to help the community.
“A hero is anyone who is willing to sacrifice their time and effort for something bigger,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be a life-saving thing.”
Ryan learned this attitude from his hero — his father, Jeff.
“I’ll always consider my dad my hero,” he says. “He taught me strong values and made me the man I am today. The values we’re taught play a huge part in how we interact with other people and how we feel toward patients. It plays a huge factor in how I do my job and who I am.”