Emergency Medical Service crews talk about why they got in the field and how it feels to do their jobs amid a coronavirus pandemic. (Photos and Video by John Spink / Edit by Tyson Horne).

Grady frontline workers share experience during COVID-19

Heart attacks, strokes, life-threatening injuries — these are common emergency calls for Grady EMS workers. In their efforts to save lives, they work to treat and transport patients to the Level 1 trauma hospital in downtown Atlanta as quickly and safely as possible. COVID-19 brings a new dimension to their mission because they also are treating people’s fear amid the pandemic and managing their own concerns.

“What I’ve noticed in the last two months during this pandemic, is people are nervous,” said paramedic Tracy Arnold, who has been with Grady EMS for 21 years. “They really just want our input into what to do.”

While treating patients, Grady EMS workers are taking extra precautions to protect themselves during the pandemic. “Being a fairly new mother with 7-month-old, it’s really just personal having me to be careful, make sure I don’t take anything home,” said LaQuandrea Hollingsworth, an advanced EMT with the ambulance service.

Crews wear protective gear and conduct enhanced cleaning of the units and equipment after each patient is transported. All EMS transports are handled as if every patient is positive for the virus.

EMS work can be intense under ordinary circumstances, but under the cloud of the pandemic, crews have taken heart in the outpouring of support from the community. “We see signs around our station all the time and different companies donating lunches to us,” “It’s nice to know they’re people out there who care about us, not just nurses and doctors, but they like the EMT’s and paramedics, too,” said paramedic Kera Mood.

Visual Journalist John Spink often captures images of EMS crews at work while covering breaking news. As the coronavirus outbreak spread, he wondered how it affected their jobs as first responders. He spent some time with them at Grady Hospital and here’s what they had to say:

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS paramedic, Scott Barker (left) shares a laugh between calls with advanced emergency medical technician, Stephen Beam (right) at Grady hospital on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Paramedic Scott Barker said, "My service during this pandemic has been very important to me. We're really out there able to help people one hundred per cent when they feel they're scared and really don't understand what's going on, we're there to really be the light to help them differentiate between what's life threatening and what's not life threatening and being the guiding light for their health" Reflecting on the pandemic, Advanced EMT, Stephen Beam said, "It's very important, we have a lot of sick people in Atlanta we have to care for and we don't know who is sick, so obviously we have to take all precautions with every single patient. It means a lot that I'm helping all these people." Barker has been a paramedic for Grady for 15-years and in the EMS service for 18-years and Beam for 2-years. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Paramedic Scott Barker and advanced emergency medical technician Stephen Beam

“My service during this pandemic has been very important to me,” said Scott Barker. “We’re really out there able to help people one hundred percent when they feel they’re scared and really don’t understand what’s going on, we’re there to really be the light to help them differentiate between what’s life-threatening and what’s not life-threatening and being the guiding light for their health”  Stephen Beam, an advanced EMT said, “It’s very important, we have a lot of sick people in Atlanta we have to care for and we don’t know who is sick, so obviously we have to take all precautions with every single patient. It means a lot that I’m helping all these people.” Barker has been a paramedic for Grady for 15-years and in EMS services for 18-years and Beam for 2-years.

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Four year - Grady EMS paramedic, Kera Moody (left) and 17-year paramedic, Ashley Rotini (right). Pandemic First Responders: Grady ambulance crew portraits. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Paramedics Kera Moody and, Ashley Rotino

Kera Moody who has been a paramedic for four years, Moody has been taken back by the public sign of gratitude. “We see signs around our station all the time and different companies donating lunches to us. It’s nice to know they’re people out there who care about us, not just nurses and doctors, but they like the EMT’s and paramedics too,” she said. Ashley Rotino, who has been a paramedic for 17 years, said, “We had a lot more patients who don’t want to go to the hospital because they’re scared of the virus. They’re scared to be in the hospital. Patients who are truly sick, who truly need to be in the hospital don’t want to be in the hospital because they’re scared they’re going to get worse being in the hospital and catching the virus there.”

May 21, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS, advanced EMT, LaQuandrea Hollingsworth. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Advanced EMT LaQuandrea Hollingsworth

“I love the outpour and the appreciation from everybody, like the restaurants, other hospitals, even the teamwork. Back at home my grandmother had a lot of health issues, my mother has now recently has been diagnosed with autoimmune disease and even being a fairly new mother, it’s really just personal having me to be careful, make sure I don’t take anything home. And just being really appreciative of the things that we really sometimes take for granted.”

May 21, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS Advanced EMT, Ben Jackson (left) and paramedic, Justin Vidican (right). EMS Advanced EMT, Ben Jackson said, "We're going to the same calls,handling some new stuff, but more than anything we've been out, we've been present in the city, we've been showing people we're still out here taking care of them. Nothing's changed, we're still out here." Paramedic, Justin Vidican commented on the pandemic saying, "It's really showed me how much we're needed in this city. The call volume has increased, I really feel the value of my job doing this day after day.I still love it. I still love it, I'll continue to love it throughout the years to come." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Advanced EMT Ben Jackson and paramedic Justin Vidican

Ben Jackson said, “We’re going to the same calls, handling some new stuff, but more than anything we’ve been out, we’ve been present in the city, we’ve been showing people we’re still out here taking care of them. Nothing’s changed, we’re still out here.” Paramedic, Justin Vidican said, “It’s really showed me how much we’re needed in this city. The call volume has increased, I really feel the value of my job doing this day after day. I still love it. I still love it, I’ll continue to love it throughout the years to come.”

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: 21-year Grady EMS Paramedic, Tracy Arnold (left) and 37-year EMT, Daniel Weed (right). Paramedic Tracy Arnold reflected on the pandemic saying, " I think the services really try to do the best we can with the knowledge that we have and obviously being at Grady they have really helped with protecting us, protecting our patients. Grady EMS goes back years and years of helping their grandmothers and their aunties and their kids, and seeing their kids being born. They've see Grady paramedics and EMT's in their homes for 100-years, and what I've noticed in the last 2-months during this pandemic, is people are nervous. They see us and they know us. Lots of people know who we are and they're nervous when they see us come out with the face shields, and the gowns and the masks. And they really just want our input in to what to do and if they need to go to the hospital or the clinic, so they're nervous, as probably as much as we are. We don't want to take it home to our families and our kids. But we're doing the best we can and that's all we can do." EMT, Daniel Weed began his career at 19-years old and said of the pandemic, "Just trying to help people, trying to educate people so they know what to do and how to stay safe. The pandemic, I was here for the first one which would've been HIV back in the 80's when we first started wearing gloves." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Paramedic Tracy Arnold and EMT Daniel Weed

“I think the services really try to do the best we can with the knowledge that we have, and obviously being at Grady they have really helped with protecting us, protecting our patients,” said Tracy Arnold, who has been a paramedic for 21 years. “Grady EMS goes back years and years of helping their grandmothers and their aunties and their kids and seeing their kids being born. What I’ve noticed in the last 2-months during this pandemic, is people are nervous. They see us and they know us. Lots of people know who we are and they’re nervous when they see us come out with the face shields, and the gowns and the masks. And they really just want our input into what to do and if they need to go to the hospital or the clinic, so they’re nervous, as probably as much as we are. We don’t want to take it home to our families and our kids. But we’re doing the best we can and that’s all we can do.” 37-year EMT Daniel Weed began his career at 19-years old and said of the pandemic, “Just trying to help people, trying to educate people so they know what to do and how to stay safe. The pandemic, I was here for the first one which would’ve been HIV.”

May 21, 2020 Atlanta: 30-year veteran, Grady EMS, paramedic field training officer, Christy Wheeler. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Paramedic field training officer, Christy Wheeler

“Grady has meant the world to me. Not only to me but for the patients and the patient’s family,” said Wheeler who has been with Grady EMS for 30 years. “We treat patients of all races, all sizes, all diversity. The outpouring of gratitude and support that has been shown, not only to Grady, but to all the healthcare workers has been overwhelming. You know a lot of times we take a lot of things for granted, and I think during this pandemic people see what we really do in this job, how we treat the patients, and how we take care of the patients. In the midst of division there has been a tremendous amount of unity from all areas — states and counties — and we really, really appreciate that.”

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS paramedics Chris Best (left) and Kelly Pearson (right). JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Paramedics Chris Best and Kelly Pearson

Pearson has been a paramedic for 7-years and Best, 12-years. Paramedic Chris Best, who has been a paramedic for 12 years, said, “During the pandemic, the appreciation that we’ve all gotten from the public has been astounding and it gives me goosebumps even talking about it.” Reflecting on her service during the pandemic, Paramedic Kelly Pearson said, “Thinking about family and bringing it home to family and trying to keep everyone safe, that’s brought a whole another level to everything. So it’s been a lot. But I’m happy to help others and trying to make a difference while keeping me and my family, and everyone else safe.”

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS paramedic, Reginald McDaniel (left) and advanced EMT, Jerry Payne (right). Commenting on the pandemic, Paramedic, Reginald McDaniel said, "I can't wait until it's over. It's sad to see the people who don't believe that this is going on.The people who are out here doing stuff, street racing and, I don't know, parties. I can't expect people to stay in the house 24-7. I mean, human contact is very important but, I figure people should be smart about what they're doing." Advanced EMT Jerry Payne said his service during the pandemic has meant, "Be there for each other, help each other out." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Paramedic Reginald McDaniel and advanced EMT Jerry Payne

“I can’t wait until it’s over,” Reginald McDaniel said of the pandemic. “It’s sad to see the people who don’t believe that this is going on. The people who are out here doing stuff, street racing and, I don’t know, parties. I can’t expect people to stay in the house 24-7. I mean, human contact is very important but, I figure people should be smart about what they’re doing.” Jerry Payne said his service during the pandemic has meant, “Be there for each other, help each other out.”

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS advanced EMT, Cole Bruton (left) and paramedic, Jeffery Forrest (right). Advanced EMT Cole Burton commenting on his service during the pandemic said, "It's been pretty good. Proper social distancing helps." Paramedic, Jeffery Forrest said, "It's very unfortunate we globally have to go through this. I would just advise everybody use universal precautions and wash your hands and keep your mask on until we can get this under control." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM.
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Advanced EMT Cole Bruton and paramedic Jeffery Forrest

“It’s been pretty good,” Cole Burton commenting on his service during the pandemic said. Proper social distancing helps.” Jeffery Forrest said, “It’s very unfortunate we globally have to go through this. I would just advise everybody use universal precautions and wash your hands and keep your mask on until we can get this under control.”

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS Advanced EMT, Victor Ayon. Victor said, "We're here to help people in spite of the pandemic. We're going to keep on helping people no matter what. We like the support from the public. It makes us feel like we're doing a good job, and to continue to do that job." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Advanced EMT, Victor Ayon

Victor said, “We’re here to help people in spite of the pandemic, Ayon said. We’re going to keep on helping people no matter what. We like the support from the public. It makes us feel like we’re doing a good job, and to continue to do that job.”

May 19, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS EMT, Chelsea Farmer (left) and paramedic, Tina Richardson (right). EMT Chelsea Farmer reflected on her service during the pandemic saying, "Service in my community has meant everything, they really come together. We've had lunches brought and snacks almost every single day, support signs throughout the city, it's been great." Paramedic Tina Richardson concurred,"All the hospitals and our co-workers and everyone get together, they're made sure we have lunch everyday, make sure we're taken care of." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

EMT Chelsea Farmer and paramedic Tina Richardson

“Service in my community has meant everything, they really come together,” said Chelsea Farmer. “We’ve had lunches brought and snacks almost every single day, support signs throughout the city, it’s been great.” Tina Richardson concurred, “All the hospitals and our co-workers and everyone get together, they’re made sure we have lunch every day, make sure we’re taken care of.”

May 21, 2020 Atlanta: Grady EMS, advanced EMT, Tyrone Seay. Seay commented on what his service has meant to him during the pandemic saying, "Bravery, courage and nerve racking because I do have a little one at the house, so it's always on my mind to wear the proper PPE so I won't take anything back home to my wife or my child." JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC

Advanced EMT Tyrone Seay

Seay commented on what his service has meant to him during the pandemic saying, “Bravery, courage and nerve racking because I do have a little one at the house, so it’s always on my mind to wear the proper PPE so I won’t take anything back home to my wife or my child.”

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