Newnan firefighters honored for helping woman in distress

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Newnan firefighters who will receive the Distinguished Service Award in December include, from left, pump engineer Bart Henson, firefighter Travis Hall, Capt. Denise Freeman, firefighter Barry Watson and firefighter Chris Calhoun.

By ELIZABETH RICHARDSON erichardson@newnan.com Five Newnan firefighters will receive awards in December at their annual banquet for distinguished service in the line of duty. Capt. Denise Freeman, pump engineer Bart Henson and firefighters Chris Calhoun, Barry Watson and Travis Hall have already been publicly thanked by Melinda Ingle of Chattanooga, Tenn., after they helped her deal with the sudden and tragic loss of her husband while passing through Newnan.
On June 19, Ingle's husband died of a massive heart attack while she was driving with him near Newnan, she explained in a letter issued to the city. In a panic and in shock, Ingle stumbled on Fire Station 1 in downtown Newnan while searching for a hospital. Henson said the fire engine had just returned to the station when Ingle pulled up asking for help, explaining that she'd just heard her husband take his last breath. Realizing the gravity of the situation, the firefighters had her pull into the fire bay for privacy. The first responders got him out of the car and confirmed that he was in full cardiac arrest. Watson and Hall began CPR until Ingle regained her composure enough to produce her husband's Do Not Resuscitate papers. "Although my husband's death was unexpected, it was not a total surprise, as he had suffered from cardiac blockages, carotid artery blockages, COPD and diabetes for several years," said Ingle in her letter to the city. At that point, the firefighters ushered Ingle into an air conditioned office downstairs at the fire station and contacted the coroner. The firefighters told her what to expect. "Each of them came to me and expressed condolences, as did several members of the nearby police department," said Ingle. "The crew on duty at that time could not have been more wonderful. They were professional, courteous, very considerate and compassionate." "We did what we would do for anybody," said Capt. Freeman. "That's the stuff we do every day," echoed Henson. The firefighters refer to the fire station as their "house," and the only difference with this situation is that the emergency "happened in our house," according to Henson. The other difference, according to Freeman, is that Ms. Ingle "took extra steps to publicly recognize the men and women who assisted her on what turned out to be a very tragic day." Freeman said firefighters don't expect to always receive this kind of acknowledgment. They understand that people encounter them on the worst of days, and some people cope with grief by trying to put the memories behind them. "[Ingle] worked through her grief by writing a letter," said Freeman. "You have to have compassion for people to do this job," said Henson. In his compassion, Henson offered to drive Ingle's car back to Tennessee when she was unsure how she'd get her car home in her emotional state. "This was certainly a gesture far beyond the call of duty," said Ingle. Ingle explained that Capt. Freeman sat with her until family members from Manchester, Ga., arrived to pick her up. "A very bad day and the unexpected loss of my husband were made much more bearable by the kindness shown me by your town's fine men and women," said Ingle. "I shall long remember everything they did for me and the kindness and sympathy shown by all." "We never get used to it, but we learn to cope in order to serve other people," said Freeman. They have to cope fast so they can be emotionally ready for the next call, said Watson. "This was a routine call until [Mr. Ingle] was dead," said Newnan Fire Department Chief David Whitley. "What they did after his death, that's what can't be taught at the fire schools. We've got to go above and beyond to take care of the ones still here. They did it for no recognition, and their actions reflect highly on all public safety. I'm proud of them." "We're appreciative that [Ms. Ingle] went extra steps to bring out what happened, but we do the same on any call," said Freeman.

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