When Decatur firefighter James Carr responded to a medical call at Poco Graphite in Decatur Monday morning, he came full circle.
In the days before, the six-year member of the Decatur Fire Department was named the EMS Responder of the Year by the State Firemen’s and Fire Marshal’s Association of Texas – after receiving the same honor from his home department and the Red River District, to which the Decatur FD belongs.
But the decorated first responder got his start in the fire brigade at Poco.
“[On Monday] one of the guys there came up to me and said, ‘I read in the Update that you got an award. Good job,’” Carr said. “We parted ways peacefully, but it was there that it all began.”
As a former Poco employee, Carr underwent industrial fire training to join the company’s emergency response team.
“Industrial companies are really good at not letting accidents happen because those cost money,” he said. “So when you work for a fire brigade, you don’t get a lot of experience because there’s just not calls like that.”
But Carr was intrigued by the service and sought a different avenue to get involved.
“There was an ad for the Decatur Citizens Fire Academy, and I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to take this awareness program that they’re putting on, so I can see exactly what the municipal side of the fire service is like,” he said.
He viewed it as possibly a good way for Poco’s emergency response team to forge a relationship with the Decatur Fire Department.
“So I went to it, and Chief [Deroy] Bennett was the one that spoke to us that very first day,” he said. “All he had to do was say, ‘Welcome,’ and that’s pretty much all it took for me.”
Carr enrolled in the academy and underwent the 12-week training program.
“After it was over I said, ‘OK, where do I sign? I’m all about this,’” Carr recalled.
He continued working at Poco, but in 2012, when the city of Decatur approved the hiring of three additional personnel for the fire department, Carr applied – and was hired. He attended the schools and passed the certification exams to become a paramedic the following year and shortly after, he earned the certification to become a CPR instructor.
“From his very first emergency run, James always seemed to be drawn to the EMS element of response at Decatur FD,” said Captain Nate Mara, who was one of several who who wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of Carr for the state-level honor. ” … James has a passion for helping out other people that is second to none.”
After Carr earned his paramedic certification, Mara asked him to take over the EMS process for Decatur FD.
“James keeps up with inventory [of medical supplies and equipment] and all of the administrative elements of the first responder organization,” Mara said. “James has the hard task of keeping up with ever-changing innovations in EMS and the fire service. He balances his own budget and ensures that the medical and wellness needs of our members and our citizens are met year after year.”
For those contributions, the department named Carr the EMS Responder of the Year at its banquet earlier this year. The department then nominated him for the honor at the district level, which he received in April.
With that win under his belt, Carr compiled a packet – which included his work history, achievements and letters of recommendation – and went for state honors.
Officials with the SFFMA interviewed the top three candidates during the organization’s annual convention, conference and training this weekend before naming Carr the winner.
“It is a very humbling honor for me,” Carr said. “I don’t feel myself as a hero. I just do what I need to do with my training at the particular time.”
Along with an award and badge, Carr and his department received a $500 donation from the Volunteer Firefighter Insurance Services of Texas. The money was given to the SFFMA Firemen’s Monument for fallen comrades.
Carr also was picked to serve on the SFFMA EMS advisory board, which adjusts protocols and policies and serves as the liaison between state lawmaker and the fire districts.
He will also be a part of the panel that selects the firefighter and EMS responder superlatives at the state level for the next two years.
“I have made it my mission to try to get an applicant from every district for EMS responder of the year,” Carr said. “They always have plenty of Firefighter of the year applicants, but they haven’t had a lot of applicants for EMS Responder of the Year.”
Changing the number of applicants will help bring light to a common misconception.
“When we go to schools and ask kids what we do for a living, they say, ‘Oh, you put out fires,’” Carr said. “That’s a very small part of what we do … What we do more than anything is EMS.
“Really, we’re like the ghostbusters,” he continued. “When there’s something wrong and people don’t know who to call, they call the fire department … We’re more than just firefighters. We do pretty much anything and everything that we’re called upon.”
And that is exactly what Carr loves about his job.
“The fact that I get to help people when they need help,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s what it’s about.”