Meet three local first responders and discover their calling to serve others
Photos by Jamie Plain
September 11, 2001. This date has made a lasting impact on the world. No matter where you were, or what you were doing, you watched the news coverage of this fateful day. It was a time of fear and uncertainty. Americans looked for help in every direction possible. Help came. It came wearing a uniform, risking its life to save others.
September 11, 2016. A date I will never forget. After dedicating 27 years of his life to being a first responder himself, my dad, Jeffrey Millay passed away. How ironic and fitting that he passed on a day both wrecked with pain, but saturated with a feeling of hope and perseverance.
October 28 is National First Responders Day to honor the men and women who put their lives on the line every day. In celebration of this special day, and first responders who bravely serve their communities, I will be highlighting three local first responders, sharing their stories and dedication to their families.
Paramedic, AMR Owensboro
Julie was an EMT for 17 years and has been a paramedic for nine. For 21 years, she has dedicated her life to serving Daviess County. Julie’s children have grown up with her as an EMT or paramedic, therefore she had to find a way to balance her professional life with her home life. Julie admits that sometimes the balance can be difficult, however she makes sure to set time aside a few times each week to focus on her family. As a family, they will eat dinner, play card games, or make s’mores just to have that intentional time together.
“Our oldest son is in college and works his own job, which makes it a little more difficult,” Julie said.
However, Julie still juggles her busy schedule with her children’s schedule to spend as much time together as possible, by making time with family intentionally and not taking overtime shifts on days everyone is free.
Julie’s husband is a deputy sheriff. With both working in emergency services, Julie said the detail to careful decision making their careers require has influenced their parenting.
“Our sons have grown up hearing stories about our jobs and that has helped them make more mindful decisions.”
Julie did say they tried not to shelter their sons from the dangers of the world. She explained that the chaos on the job helps to keep things in perspective when it comes to raising children. They recognize big versus small and they “try not to sweat the small stuff.”
As for the children in the community, Julie hopes they see her and all other paramedics as a helper and a safe person. She also wants the community to be educated on the EMT and paramedic roles, because they are quite different. EMT provides basic life support, whereas paramedics provide advanced life support. Paramedics can start IVs, administer medications, decompress a collapsed lung, intubate and much more. Most people don’t realize there’s such a big difference in the skill set.
“I want to be viewed as a positive role model to kids, especially young girls,” she said.
When Julie began her career as a paramedic, the profession was predominantly male. She wants to inspire young girls who may find interest in becoming a paramedic or any other emergency responder.
Being a paramedic is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding, as well as dangerous at times. However, it is very rewarding, Julie said.
“If you are interested in a career in emergency services, by all means do some research,” she said, stressing the importance of making family a priority and focus.
According to Julie, her family and sons needed her more than any employer, so be intentional with your family time, and don’t pick up too many overtime shifts.
Detective, Daviess County Sheriff’s Office
Kelsey has been in law enforcement for almost 10 years, two of those as a detective, and has spent the last year as a supervisor. But the beginning of her career was the most demanding.
“As a new law enforcement officer, there was no balance between work and home, it was all work,” Kelsey said.
As her years of experience grew, Kelsey began to put things in perspective. She learned that life is precious and that if allowed, she could spend unlimited hours on the job. So, when time comes that she is able to spend it with her family, she does. Her husband and bonus daughter, Presley, understand that if she misses out on a game, dinner, or school event it is because someone else needs her more.
Kelsey and her husband, a former firefighter with Owensboro Fire Department, agree “that in this career, dedicating a few hours to a victim can be life changing.” Therefore, her family supports her in her career and encourages her to help as much and as often as she can.
Kelsey’s parenting has been influenced by her career. She understands that stability, logic, trust, respect, and love all start within the home. She says that no matter how protective or strict you are as a parent, when a child leaves the home, they are able to make their own choices.
Therefore, she says that “a good foundation of being smart, experienced, and stable” sets a child up for success. She wants to encourage her bonus daughter to be free in her innocence, but also to understand respect for all adults. She believes in open communication and “letting her know what the world is capable of and hoping she never encounters anything less than amazing experiences.” Kelsey is passionate that her career encourages her to hold tight to the small moments and to value her family.
Kelsey wants the children in the community to understand that emergency personnel are human too. Just like most any profession, emergency workers also have families and homes.
“We are just trying to make a positive difference in the world, one call at a time,” she said.
As far as advice for new emergency service workers, Kelsey said, “take care of yourself – it is impossible to “pour from an empty cup.”
Kelsey has a passion for the job that she does. She wants to make sure that when at work, her time and attention is dedicated to the person she is helping. Similarly, when she is not at work she wants that same time and attention to be dedicated to her family.
She wants to “love with every ounce of her heart and to pour into her family, her kids, her friends, and her animals” as much as she can. She encourages anyone going into a similar career choice, or in a similar career wanting to start a family, to be intentional about the time and attention you have and how you spend it.
Lieutenant, Owensboro Fire Department
Brannon Pendergraft, a husband and father to three daughters, is a Lieutenant for the Owensboro Fire Department, where he has been for over nine years.
Despite a demanding career, Brannon balances his work schedule with family time through making his job part of his daughters’ lives. His oldest daughter, now 9 years old, has grown up at the fire station. He is gone 24 to 48 hours at a time, so he welcomes his family to the fire station when he is on duty. Brannon says there is a “family feeling” within the station and families are always welcomed. The girls will also come to City events he is working, like the Owensboro Air Show or Fourth of July fireworks.
His time with his girls is just as intentional off duty.
“When I am home, I spend every moment I can with them. Even if I am simply working in the yard, they are right beside me,” he said.
For young firefighters with children, or those looking to start a family, Brannon said it is important to make the job part of the kids’ lives.
Firefighters miss a third of their children’s lives because of their dedication. Therefore, they miss special moments, like tucking in their children every night. However, there are ways to make up for that time and to fill that void by spending time with them whether it’s intentional on his days off or a quick trip by his wife and girls to the station while he’s on duty.
“I have a lot of titles in my life and firefighter is way down the list, but to them it is their favorite,” he said. “My girls love that their dad is a firefighter.”
Brannon says that the situations he encounters in his line of work has impacted his decisions in parenting. He has trained to be prepared in the worst-case scenarios and he feels like he takes care of his family in the same way.
“If we are at a swim party, I feel like I am always the lifeguard,” he said as an example.
He avoids panic mode at all costs by being prepared for stressful moments.
Brannon wants the children in the community to feel a sigh of relief when they see a firetruck.
“The umbrella of our job is so complex,” he said. “I want people to see us as a ‘safe haven,’ who can help them whatever their problem may be.”
There is an excitement from children when they see a firetruck, flashing its lights. Those lights symbolize a sense of security and safety. Firefighters are seen as heroes in the community, and Brannon wants children to feel that “beacon of hope.”
Being a first responder is a demanding career, but also one of the most rewarding out there. From the daughter of a fireman, who grew up watching him sacrifice time with his family to dedicate his life to another, I know just how demanding it can be. Intentionality is a recurring theme.
Taking every opportunity and moment available to focus on family and children, making lasting, core memories – that is exactly what makes Julie, Kelsey, and Brannon the parents and professionals they are. We honor them this month and always for their dedication to our community and we celebrate them for their dedication to their families.