By Audrey Fraizer
Sunstar EMS first responders donned black mourning bands twice in nine days for two paramedics signing out from the job much too early.
Thomas W. Oliver, 29, died June 28, 2013, from a brain aneurysm. Oliver was transitioning from EMT to paramedic with Sunstar in Pinellas County, Fla., and he was scheduled for his first ride in that role that following Monday.
Christopher “CJ” Jennings, 33, was killed July 8, 2013, in a motorcycle–car collision minutes after leaving a training class at Sunstar headquarters. Jennings had been with Sunstar for three years working as an assistant supervisor paramedic. He was also a SWAT paramedic for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
“They were dedicated to what they did,” said Rob Smith, Sunstar EMS director of communications and emergency management. “It was a terrible loss for us, their families, and our community.”
Oliver was relatively new to EMS, having joined Sunstar in September 2011 after spending several years working for PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international company focused on auditing, tax, and consulting services.
Smith said Oliver had found his ideal niche in EMS.
“You couldn’t miss the guy,” Smith said. “He had a great attitude and was really looking forward to becoming a paramedic. This was so unexpected.”
A tribute organized by Oliver’s family featured the launch of 100 colored lanterns, bagpipes, and a last call.
Jennings’ death came nearly two weeks after he and two other members of the Sunstar Paramedics SWAT team took three of the top four places in the “Intubation Rodeo” of an inaugural EMS competition held in Inverness, Fla. Each participant—and they came from more than 30 area agencies—were given three minutes or less to assess an emergency scenario and intubate the accident victim, or establish an airway, at each challenge site. Jennings took third place.
In April 2013, Jennings was one of the first paramedics on the scene of the amputation of a 2-year-old girl, who lost part of both of her legs when her father accidentally ran over her with a lawn mower.
Smith noted Jennings’ genuine enthusiasm during his years at Sunstar EMS and the 10 years he worked in EMS at a fire department in his home state of Georgia. The last picture posted on his Facebook page shows family, friends, and his fellow paramedics at a memorial held to celebrate his life.
“He had a smile that never left his face; it was always there,” Smith said. “He loved being a part of EMS.”
Sunstar is the 9-1-1 ambulance transport service for all Pinellas County residents, employing 500-plus local residents and responding to around 500 calls a day. The Sunstar Emergency Communications Center was the 34th dispatch center in the world to be recognized as an IAED Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE).