The Extra Mile


Local paramedics help couple make a memory that will last a lifetime

Tracy and Debby Mullins gaze out at the Atlantic Ocean prior to returning to the Tri-Cities after being discharged from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

By Dave Ongie

As an emergency medical technician, you never know what the next call might bring.

Lt. Daniel Russell and EMT Ashley Kent of the Johnson City/Washington County EMS recently got a call they never saw coming, one that allowed them to help a couple from Johnson County to make a lasting memory during a time of great hardship.

“Who wants to go to Florida? We need a pickup.” When Kent heard the request, she didn’t think twice about making the nearly 16-hour round trip along with Russell. The mission was pretty straightforward – pick up Tracy Mullins and his wife Debby at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and bring them home.

As plans were being made to complete the transport, the folks at the Mayo Clinic mentioned that it was a shame Tracy and Debby had spent so much time in Jacksonville and had not been able to visit the beach. The Mayo Clinic is only four miles from the ocean, but given Tracy’s physical condition after an extended battle against cancer, the distance seemed much longer than that.

“They got married on the ocean 40 years ago, and they hadn’t been back since,” Russell said.

Russell and Kent were determined to add one memorable detour into their long-distance pickup. Luckily, one of their co-workers had been part of the Region One Strike Team and had made some connections in the Jacksonville Fire Department.

Lt. Daniel Russell and EMT Ashley Kent reflected on their unique pickup in Jacksonville, Florida, last week. PHOTO BY DAVE ONGIE

“When we had the hurricane two years ago, he went to Jacksonville,” Russell said. “He was evacuating their nursing homes and hospitals and everything. That’s how we made that contact.”

A contact inside the Jacksonville Fire Department reached out to a lifeguard with the Jacksonville Beach Rescue, and the dream of getting Tracy and Debbie to the beach became a reality. On the morning of the pickup, the folks at the Mayo Clinic prepared breakfast for the couple, and Russell and Kent transported Tracy and Debbie to the beach where they had a peaceful meal with their feet in the sand and their eyes on the expansive Atlantic Ocean.

Normally complications during the checkout process at a hospital are an inconvenience, but on that particular morning, a paperwork snafu became a Godsend.

“They were there at least two hours,” Russell recalled. “We had some complications with the paperwork, so it ended up slowing us down, but it ended up giving them longer on the beach.”

A special wheelchair provided by the Jacksonville Beach Rescue allowed Tracy Mullins to get out to dip his toes in the Atlantic Ocean prior to his trip back to Northeast Tennessee.

All in all, it was an unforgettable morning for Tracy and Debby, but also for Russell and Kent. Kent said the go, go, go nature of the job doesn’t often leave much time to get to know the folks she’s helping. But watching Tracy and Debby hold hands on the beach and talking with them on the long journey back to Northeast Tennessee was a memory that will stick with her for a long time.

“It just made me happy we could do something like that for somebody,” she said. “It’s a special moment, and it’s cool to be part of it.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”


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