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Dedication to service can run in the family

Staff writer

Among the character traits necessary to become an emergency service worker, one in particular may be the most common.

“We’re all adrenaline junkies, I can say that,” Hillsboro EMT Gary Slater said.

The adrenaline addiction runs in Slater’s family. His mother is county EMS director JoAnn Knak. His brothers, Mark and Alan, are the Florence fire chief and an Arkansas City EMT and firefighter, respectively. Gary also works in law enforcement. Mark’s son, Evan, is in fire school and enrolled in EMT training.

Slater’s family isn’t the only one with a family history of emergency service. The McCarty family, the Whiteside family, the Larsen family, and the Wadkins family all have multiple members who work in emergency services.

Mike Wadkins didn’t think he could handle emergency service work until his wife set an example.

“He used to say ‘I could never do that,’” Sue Wadkins said of her husband. Sue said she worked for two or three years before her husband came around. After Sue had run emergency calls for a while, Mike opened his mind to the idea.

“I got inspired, between her and JoAnn Knak, I thought I’d give it a try,” Mike Wadkins said. “I don’t think it ever would have occurred to me to do it if it weren’t for (Sue).”

When he started going on calls about halfway through his training, Mike realized he enjoyed being someone who helped in critical situations.

Sue called it “catching the bug.”

“We don’t do this job for a thank-you,” Sue said. “Anybody doing it for a pat on the back is in it for all the wrong reasons.”

But a thank-you certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

About five years ago, Sue Wadkins responded to a call for a woman who lived in her neighborhood. She administered CPR to the woman and the woman survived. That was in the fall.

“At Christmas, she came to our door and said ‘Thank you for saving my life and giving me another Christmas with my kids and my grandkids.’ That made me cry.”

Working on a call with a family member is something Knak, Gary Slater, and the Wadkins’ all said was a special feeling.

“You can look at each other and smile and know what the other person’s going through,” Sue Wadkins said.

Mike said he and his wife had never worked together in a professional capacity like that, and they learned about each other because of it.

“There’s a certain comfort level there, more so than with anyone else,” Mike Wadkins said.

Mike said there are probably others like him who at one point thought they couldn’t do it, until they had a family member get involved. Sue agreed it’s something people don’t know until they try.

“It’s like I told my kids, you’re never gonna know if you like a food if you don’t try it,” she said. “If you don’t know if you like tomatoes, taste one.”

Wadkins understands that not everyone who tries it will like it, and that’s OK. But it’s important that people try it out.

“I wish I had done this 20 years ago,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was missing.”

Last modified Sept. 11, 2014

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