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Howard fire and rescue honor crews, citizens for life-saving actions

Howard fire and rescue honor crews, citizens for life-saving actions
Alexandra Orange, 9, proudly holds her Gift of Life award alongside her mother and father, Kristina and Chris, little sister, Julianna, as well as HCDFRS Fire Chief John Butler, left, Dr. Matthew Levy, and County Executive Allan Kittleman during the department's award ceremony Wednesday morning in Clarksville. (Staff phot by Andrew Michaels)

On March 19, 2014, 7-year-old Alexandra Orange was in the car with her mother, Kristina, and little sister, Julianna, enjoying McDonald's chicken nuggets as they were on their way to tour a house for sale in Ellicott City. But things took a frightening turn as they approached the corner of Sand Hill Road and Frederick Road.

"My mom ate one of the chicken nuggets with dipping sauce, which apparently had something that my mom was allergic to," Alexandra said. "It might have had coconut oil or olive oil in it. While she was driving, my mom took Benadryl. Then, she said, 'I'm not feeling so good.'"

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Kristina then pulled over and rolled down her window, gasping for air. Seconds before blacking out, she handed her cell phone to her eldest daughter and told her to call 911. Without hesitation, Alexandra called for help, ultimately saving her mother's life.

The actions of the now-9-year-old were celebrated among more than 200 firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, dispatchers and medical staff also honored during the Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue Services awards ceremony Wednesday morning in Clarksville.

Fire Chief John Butler said Alexandra's actions reinforced to the department that its messages of safety are being heard in the community.

"The majority of people want to do good things and they are learners," Butler said. "They learn these skills and put them to good use at appropriate times. It's very encouraging as a father of three young children to see that there's such good in the heart of the young folks in the community."

In addition to Alexandra's Gift of Life award, department staff awards included honorable mentions, certificates of appreciation, leadership citation, stork awards, meritorious service awards, citations of honor, unit citations and quality of care awards.

After completing a 24-hour shift at 7 a.m., Cpt. Dale Becker, 19-year veteran of the department, joined his department in Ten Oaks Ballroom. As EMS supervisor, Becker said his position has taken him on a variety of calls from stubbed toes to cardiac arrests all over the county.

"When I arrive on the scene, I basically take on the role that the crew wants me to oversee," Becker said. "My primary role is boss and that might allow me to just stand back, watch and see what's going on and make sure they're doing everything they're supposed to be doing."

HCDFRS Honor Guard & Fire Brigade present the colors during the department's award ceremony Wednesday morning in Clarksville.
HCDFRS Honor Guard & Fire Brigade present the colors during the department's award ceremony Wednesday morning in Clarksville. (Staff photo by Andrew Michaels)

Although he acts as an assistant to the paramedics, there are times when Becker is the first to arrive on a call and must provide patient care. Once a crew arrives, the company officer will then take over Becker's role as assistant.

This year, Becker was awarded the Gift of Life for helping resuscitate a man who went into cardiac arrest and collapsed at home plate just before a softball game at Meadowridge Park in Columbia.

"The guy was in his 30s and getting ready to play a softball game with families there," Becker said. "We actually did such a good job [using CPR] on him that he actually woke up. He wanted to get up [and] we had to tell him, 'No, you were dead for like 12 minutes.' We told him we had to shock him four times."

As paramedics sedated the man and loaded him into the ambulance, Becker said he assisted the family, highlighting the brave work of the people nearby prior to the department's arrival.

"If it wasn't for the fact that the teammates and bystanders did CPR and gave us a few minutes until we could get there, I'm sure he would've died," he said. "But, they did CPR and bought us time and that's critical."

Listening to Becker's and other members' accomplishments, Alexandra said it "feels good" to have made a difference, too, and save her mom.

"I was very proud of her and that all of the 911 practicing in Girl Scouts and school helped," Kristina added.

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In the future, Butler said he hopes to see a continuum of a healthy community and its citizens' valiant efforts.

"If there's any message that can be taken away from today, it's that the first responders aren't the first responders; the citizens in the community who are standing next to the incident or the accident are the first responders," Butler said. "We have a response time and someone has to call 911. It isn't going to call itself."

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