There are a number of careers in which heroic deeds come with the territory. The people who aspire to these careers are dedicated, focused and driven to help others but don’t consider themselves heroes. When they save a life in the course of a day’s work, they’re the first ones to say, “I’m just doing my job.”
American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” We reached out to four local citizens whose jobs routinely put them in the position of such bravery. Here are their inspiring stories.
Paramedic, Firefighter, Ocala Fire Rescue
Growing up with a father and brother in the military special forces and an uncle who worked for Gainesville Fire Rescue, a life of service appealed to Jacqueline Nettles. A Florida native raised in Homestead, Nettles was a tomboy who did everything her brother did.
“My mom has been the rock to our whole family. We have high-risk jobs and are adrenaline junkies; she always stays calm when most moms/wives would be a wreck, especially sending her husband and her son to war multiple times,” adds Nettles.
For as long as Nettles can remember, she wanted to be a firefighter, even though there aren’t many women in the field. She attended EMT school and then enrolled at the fire college in Ocala. Having fallen in love with Ocala, she was thrilled to become a firefighter with Ocala Fire Rescue in 2007.
“We have to have EMT certification to be a firefighter, but the paramedic training is optional. Paramedics have a higher level of medical knowledge than an EMT and are able to do more intricate work, such as running intravenous lines, reading EKGs and such. I went to paramedic school because I wanted to know I have the knowledge to do every single thing that can be done when we go on a call,” says Nettles, 36.
Her training was put to one of its greatest tests in December 2013, when called to a car accident in which a mother and her four children, ages 13 months to 9 years old, were trapped. Their car was stopped at a red light when it was rear-ended by another vehicle going approximately 50 miles per hour. The impact had so seriously damaged the compact car that it was impossible to open any doors.
“It’s always challenging when children are involved,” says Nettles. “In this case, everyone in the car needed immediate treatment and had to be airlifted to hospitals for surgery.”
But first, Nettles and her crewmates had to get the injured children and their mother out of the crushed car. This required calling for additional transport trucks to help with heavy extrication, a tedious process that required cutting off the front passenger door, the front seat and the back passenger door to reach the three children in the back seat. It took nearly an hour to get the last child free, as one of his legs was pinned under the seat.
“The most difficult part of this case was the kids asking us over and over to help them, but it wasn’t that simple and it took time to get them out,” says Nettles. “Although the mother was also injured and in a lot of pain, she was the last one taken out of the car because her injuries were not as bad as the children’s. We always take the worst first.”
One child was in a car seat; the other three were wearing seat belts. This was a blessing, as they would have been ejected from the vehicle otherwise, Nettles notes.
“Everyone would have died without intervention, but the worst was the second boy we removed from the car, who was about 7 years old,” she recalls. “The impact pushed the car’s axle up into the back seat where he was sitting, shattering his pelvis and breaking both femurs. From just one femur fracture, you can lose up to three units of blood and he had two femur fractures, plus the shattered pelvis, so he had significant internal blood loss and pain. It was a life-threatening situation.”
The young victim remained conscious the entire time as Nettles assessed his condition and ran IVs to replace lost fluids. He was placed on a backboard and both legs were immobilized to prevent further injury. The child was then airlifted by helicopter to Shands pediatric unit for emergency surgery.
“He survived, but one of his siblings did not,” says Nettles. “I’m a mother myself so I can’t imagine seeing your kids being taken to separate hospitals and not being there when your child takes their last breath.”
Although many people credit the paramedics and firefighters as being “brave,” Nettles doesn’t see it that way.
“The brave ones are the families who stand back and let us do what we’re trained to do. I feel more adrenaline after an incident. During the event, it’s instinctual and the training takes over. We’re doing what we’ve practiced for every single day.”
Darwin Ang, M.D., Ph.D., FACS
Trauma Surgeon, Trauma Medical Director at ORMC Health Trauma
“Out of all the different fields of surgery, trauma surgery typified for me what it means to be a doctor,” says Darwin Ang, M.D., Ph.D., FACS, who has been a trauma surgeon since 2006 and at Ocala Regional Medical Center Health Trauma since 2012, where he is also trauma medical director. “It’s one of the few fields where you’re performing surgery that is absolutely needed. You’re offering people hope all the time. Hope is a very powerful, intangible force, and it’s nice to be able to offer that. It’s hard to say you can do that with other jobs.”
A Florida native who hails from Tallahassee, Ang, 43, is also certified in general surgery. He is often called upon to perform emergency general surgery, as well as caring for critically ill patients following an operation.
“It’s the whole spectrum of care, which is another reason I like this field,” says Ang. “We get to save lives in many different ways.”
Still, some cases stand out simply because the odds are stacked so strongly against the patient. That was the scenario in the spring of 2014 when Ang was finishing up an operation on a perforated stomach ulcer and heard the trauma alert. Something told him this was going to be more than a regular motor vehicle accident.
“We are a close-knit group of five surgeons who work together. My colleague, Dr. Jason Farrah, stabilized the patient, a woman in her 50s, until I got there and was resuscitating her when I came into the trauma room,” says Ang. “She was the sole survivor of a head-on vehicle collision; everyone else died at the scene. The moment I walked in, she lost her vital signs.
“We started chest compressions, CPR and IV epinephrine. We were already giving her blood and her airway was intubated, but she had no vital signs. Her pupils were fixed and dilated; she was basically dead. After we had been working on her for 14 minutes, Dr. Farrah looked at me and said, ‘What do you think about opening her chest and doing manual heart massage and clamping her aorta?’”
There was no way to know if that final desperate measure would work, but Ang made the decision to try.
With the patient’s chest opened, Ang immediately opened the pericardium (the sack around the heart) and discovered her heart was compressed down to the size of a walnut because of all the pressure from internal bleeding. In addition, there was a hole in the heart, which had ruptured. Farrah clamped the aorta, while Ang massaged the heart.
“Miraculously, her vitals came back within five to 10 minutes of opening her chest,” says Ang. “She was down for nearly 30 minutes. We took her back to the OR, fixed the hole in her heart and brought her to ICU.”
The patient was hospitalized for over two months. Multiple surgeries were required, as she had—in addition to the injury to her heart—a ruptured bladder, ruptured spleen, fractured ankle and fractured pelvis.
“That kind of force from a collision traveling through the body is usually not survivable,” notes Ang. “Later, we did research to find the statistics of people surviving cardiac rupture, and they are very low, less than 5 percent. We found no recorded survivors of anyone surviving a blunt cardiac rupture with emergency thoracotomy (incision into the chest wall). She is the only known survivor of this kind of injury. She really is a miracle.
“She not only survived, but she did so with her mental faculties intact,” says Ang. “It was a miracle that she lived but also that she has good quality of life today.”
Officer, Ocala Police Department
Growing up in Weirsdale, Rachel Mangum always had an interest in law enforcement.
“I don’t like desk jobs, and other than going into the military, there’s nothing else that comes close to this kind of profession where you get to wear lots of different hats in one shift,” says Officer Mangum, 25, who became a police officer in 2013.
If there’s one thing she knows for sure, it’s that things can take a very different turn after the sun goes down. Working her 4:30pm to 2:30am shift for the Ocala Police Department, Officer Mangum gets a little daytime “exposure” and a lot of nighttime exposure, which is when bad things tend to happen.
That’s exactly what happened early in the hours of September 13, 2015. Mangum was on the Ocala Square with several other officers, keeping an eye on patrons exiting the various clubs at about 1:45am.
“I was teasing the other officers about the fact that my 10-hour shift was almost over and I’d be heading home soon when we got a call over the radio about shots fired at Cloud 9. It’s not unusual to get a shooting call around that area of Pine Street, so we all got to our squad cars and raced down there,” she recalls.
When Mangum arrived at the nightclub minutes later, it was chaos. There were numerous other law enforcement vehicles and officers (both Ocala PD and Marion County Sheriff’s Office), and hundreds of patrons and onlookers clogged the scene.
“When I jumped out of my car, I heard another officer on the radio saying there were multiple gunshots and to bring every available ambulance,” she says. “At that point, we had no idea how many victims we had and if the shooter was still on the scene or not. I saw a huge man, well over 6 feet tall and 275 to 300 pounds, walking out of the club, holding his leg and screaming that he’d been shot.”
Mangum immediately ran to the injured man to offer help. Although she’s only 5 feet 5 inches tall and 130 pounds “soaking wet,” the panicked man draped his arm across her shoulder and she managed to get him over to a car he could lean against for support.
“On first glance at his leg from the front, I thought the gunshot wound was a ‘through and through’ (where the bullet enters and exits), but I wasn’t sure. I was trying to calm him down, watch his vital signs and render first aid,” says Mangum, who pulled out her pocket knife to cut away the man’s shorts so she could bandage the wound in an effort to stop the bleeding. It was then that she got a good look at the back of his calf where the bullet had exited.
“It looked like someone had taken a meat cleaver to it,” says Mangum, who was concerned because of the amount of blood, which continued to soak through the gauze she wrapped around the wound. “There was a lot of blood. Another officer came up and helped me lift the man’s leg so I could apply a tourniquet. The injured man was begging me to help him and was starting to go into shock. At that point, my goal was just to make sure he didn’t bleed so much that he died.
“You revert back to your training in a situation like that. I can’t take individual credit for saving him,” notes Mangum, whose uniform and gear were covered with blood from the man’s injured leg. “Everyone worked together; it was a group effort. Two other officers and myself helped get him into an ambulance and off to the hospital. In the end, there were five people injured and one fatality; my guy survived.”
Once the injured man was in the ambulance, Mangum turned her attention to helping the other law enforcement officers on the scene.
Tragically, Benetria Robinson, 19, died at the scene after being shot; five other people were injured in the shooting. Eight days later, Laquan Ria’Mel Barrow, 24, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder after multiple witnesses said he fired a handgun into a crowd of people in the parking lot of the nightclub.
Paramedic/Firefighter, Ocala Fire Rescue
Rescue goes with the territory when you’re a firefighter. For Chris Hickman, 42, a member of Ocala Fire Rescue since 2001, helping people out of danger is just part of the job. A paramedic for 20 years and a firefighter for 15, Hickman has had his share of saves, but one of his most memorable rescues took place in 2001, not long after he joined the fire service.
Hickman and crew got the call to respond to a night house fire in Ocala. Upon arriving, they learned that not only were there two people in the house, but both were elderly and confined to wheelchairs.
“Neither of them had been seen since earlier that evening,” recalls Hickman, who was part of the team targeted with trying to save the house’s residents. Other firefighters worked desperately to battle the fire before it could overtake the victims and the firefighters trying to extricate them from the burning house.
“We found the people in their bedrooms, but both of them were overcome by smoke and unresponsive,” says Hickman. “The flames were visible over our heads as we removed both victims from the house. Once we got them safely outside, we began aggressively treating them, as neither person was breathing.”
The situation was critical. Hickman’s paramedic skills were put to good use as he quickly performed endotracheal intubation on both persons.
“That’s a fancy way of saying we helped to secure the patients’ airways by placing a tube in their tracheas and breathing for them by using a bag valve mask,” he explains, adding that another paramedic firefighter assisted him with the second patient. “We also had to initiate IV therapy and give life-saving medications.
“These folks were definitely both lucky and blessed for a rapid response and trained crew who knew exactly what to do on scene when time counts,” Hickman adds. “This event forever changed my approach as to how I enter a building that is on fire and those who enter with me as we do our jobs protecting the great citizens of our community.”
Hickman, who is married and has two “amazing” kids, has been the recipient of several awards for courage and service. He received the Silver Medal of Valor for his quick actions at the scene of a traffic accident in July 2008, in which he single-handedly lifted an overturned SUV a foot off the ground so fellow first responders could free a woman underneath whose arm was trapped beneath the vehicle. Despite the accolades and the fact that his actions were heralded in numerous articles as an incredible “feat of strength,” Hickman doesn’t see himself as a hero. “I was just doing my job,” he says modestly.