Renee Hollingsworth, Robert C. Wood Early Development Center, Little Egg Harbor
I am a preschool teacher for four years, a firefighter for six years, and an EMS for three years. This past year I had 13 angels that I absolutely adored. They are definitely an inspiration to me, and I know they look up to me. They will call me, ‘Mom,’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no. I’m not your mommy sweetie.’ But at the same time, I treat them like they are my own, and their parents are entrusting me with their child.
What I go through and see as an EMS and firefighter, I have to leave behind when I go into the classroom the next day. Even when it’s a night I haven’t slept, I switch it off and go into “Mom” mode where I am more nurturing. I know that no matter how hard the night was as an EMT, that I am going to go into class and see 13 shining, beautiful faces.
I was thinking about going into the military, but I wound up becoming a firefighter. I love the family-like community, the structure, the whole adrenaline rush, and the fact that I’m helping people. The guys were kind of accepting at first, and I was probably the youngest one at the time, and they were looking at me like their daughter. I was less than 140 pounds when I started, and they probably thought they were going to have to pull all of my weight, but I am a lot stronger than I look.
My sister was actually the captain of my first aid squad, and she kept asking me for five years to join. And I was just like, ‘I am not into the blood and guts, I’m sorry, I can’t do it.’ But then she got my mom into it, and my mom told me it’s not as bad as I think. But long story short, my sister convinced me, and I took all of the tests, and I joined. Literally the first night, there was a woman who was intoxicated, and she drove into a pole. We got to her, and even though she gave us a hard time at first, we were able to get her to the hospital to be treated. She went on to rehab after her sentence, and she actually wrote to us after rehab, and thanked us for helping her. And I was like, ‘Wow, I actually helped change someone’s life.’
Some things can be hard for me. Like I had a 90-year-old man who had a stroke and a heart attack at the same time, and I couldn’t save him. I felt so awful about that. But having my sister work with me is helpful, because she helps me see that I did the best that I could.
My first trauma call was a guy doing 80 down the parkway and literally bent his car around a tree. I was with my partner who I ride with weekly, who was at the time close to 400 pounds. So I had to climb into the wrecked car. The engine was literally in the drivers lap. Nobody thought he was still alive. But my sister taught me to always give the benefit of the doubt. So I put my hand in the car, and he has no radial. Then I feel his carotid, and he had a pulse! And I’m like, ‘Oh my God, he’s breathing!’ So I scream out of the car, ‘We need a helicopter! We need the fire department!’ It’s nothing like they trained me in school. They say your training kicks in, which is very true, and I started running through in my mind everything they trained me for. Thank God to this day he’s still alive. I don’t look at myself as being a hero. I look at it as, ‘Here is your second chance.’
- Interview by Gregory Andrus