OGDEN -- Weber State paramedics instructor Zackery Hatch practices what he teaches.
If there's any doubt, just ask Hatch to show his Paramedic of the Year award, given to him by the Utah Bureau of Emergency Medical Services. Hatch shares the top honor with his partner, Cody Fisher.
The two men, who work for West Valley City Fire Department, saved the life of an elderly woman whose airway was blocked. When they realized she would not otherwise survive the ambulance trip to the hospital, they performed an emergency tracheotomy, allowing her to breathe.
On second thought, maybe don't ask to see Hatch's award.
"It's hard when you get an award, because you get harassed at the station," said Hatch, who is a 2005 graduate of WSU's paramedic program. "I'm a humble kind of person. It's really neat to be at the right place at the right time. If me and my partner weren't there, somebody else would have been."
Hatch shared in a second, group award for service during the "Incident of the Year." At a railroad yard in Salt Lake City, a young man was found trapped by 200 tons of steel, which had shifted after the victim entered the railroad car, presumably for a ride.
About 75 paramedics and safety personnel raced to move the individual steel pieces, but about 45 minutes in, the victim's vital signs slipped. Hatch and other paramedics stabilized him, and leaders called in a surgeon to amputate the leg. The victim survived. By the next day, the young man was well enough to meet Hatch and offer his thanks.
"I know we have the ability to make a difference in every call we go on," Hatch said. "I don't think any of us look at ourselves as heroes. It's just what we do."
Another local man was honored at the same ceremony as EMT of the Year. Tyler Greenhalgh, a Weber County sheriff's deputy, earned the honor for saving a Washington Terrace infant in cardiac arrest. Greenhalgh was profiled in a July 13 Standard-Examiner article.
Hatch said EMTs and paramedics use some of the same basic skills, but becoming a paramedic requires longer and more in-depth training. Hatch is also part of a heavy rescue team, which takes on trickier rescues, including low- and high-angle rope rescues. He also coordinates Utah Task Force 5, a state-level urban search and rescue team that helps search for people who are lost, including children and the elderly.
Hatch said he chose Weber State for paramedic training because of the quality of its program.
"In my personal opinion, it's the best paramedic program in the state," he said. "My wife, Monica, came through the program as well."
Hatch teaches in Weber State's distance-learning paramedic program. Students take online classes, and come to campus for in-person skills training several times a year.
Hatch's paramedic shifts last 48 hours, so he only makes the West Valley City commute about five times a month, he said. That leaves him time for his Weber State job and his search-and-rescue duty. The long shifts also give him more "daddy time" with his children, a daughter, age 5, and girl/boy twins, 20 months.
"I get to spend more time with the kids, more times of the day," he said. "We get morning and afternoon instead of just the evening."
Family is important, which is one of many reasons Hatch was glad he was there when the elderly choking victim needed help.
"West Valley city had a three-alarm apartment fire going on at another location, so since everybody was gone, me and my partner got dispatched," Hatch recalled. "It was an elderly female, a grandmother, who had choked on food and was blue and cyanotic."
People at the family picnic had attempted the Heimlich maneuver, but could not dislodge the food, steak. Hatch and Fisher used forceps to extract one large mass, then the woman gasped, causing the remaining steak to lodge even deeper.
Hatch called for assistance from the South Salt Lake Fire Department, so he and his partner could stay in the back of the ambulance while others drove. When the partners saw their patient's time running out, they performed the tracheotomy.
"She and her kids and grandkids showed so much gratitude when we got to meet them later," Hatch said. "It was pretty neat and humbling. Usually we don't get to see the happy outcome -- we just leave people at the hospital door -- so that was great."