March 16, 2012
By Jolene Thornton
I was introduced to Deputy Kevin “Kev” Siefker in the summer of 2006 soon after I started working at the Putnam County (Ohio) Sheriff’s Office communications center. His quiet demeanor made me nervous until getting to know his keep-your-cool and laid-back-kind-of-guy personality. He might be quiet but he was always easy to talk to and friendly.
My shift on June 23, 2011, started like any other shift (It was a dark, stormy evening…). Dispatcher Tonya Amstutz and I were having a steady but enjoyable night, answering calls involving traffic stops and paper services, and the occasional 9-1-1 pocket dial.
The shift was close to over when Kev, Unit 14, signaled 86 (traffic stop) in the Village of Vaughnsville. My partner ran the vehicle registration, which showed the owner, who was driving, had a warrant out of a neighboring county.
While Tonya worked to confirm the warrant and set up the exchange with the other agency, I received a 9-1-1 call from a woman complaining of extreme pain as a result of a fall in her driveway. I paged EMS and continued talking to her while trying to verify the address she repeated but I couldn’t find in the system. I asked the responding deputy to circle the area in an attempt to find her at about the same time I heard Kev’s voice come across the radio.
“Go ahead 14, 14 Putnam,” Tonya answered.
“I need the fire department at 382 Findlay,” he said, and then, “14 Putnam! Get me some help! I have elderly in the building! FULLY ENGULFED, HURRY!”
Everyone on duty hearing Kev’s traffic knew the fire was bad.
Without losing my connection to the 9-1-1 fall victim, I zoomed to Kev’s location on our map. Tonya was typing the call into CAD and preparing to page fire. I turned to her and said, “It’s Kalida fire.” As she paged Kalida, the mobile EMS unit found my fall victim, allowing me to disconnect and assist Tonya.
Our Protocol assumes automatic mutual aid in all structure fires and, from the sound of panic in Kev’s voice, we were going to need the help of several departments. Tonya paged Columbus Grove and Ottoville fire; Columbus Grove, Kalida, and Ottoville EMS were dispatched for possible victims. Deputies were en route to assist Kev, and his brother Brian, Unit 36, who was sergeant on duty that night, came across the radio:
“36 to 14, the fire department is en route. We’re just west of Grove. Just stay out of the building if it’s fully engulfed.”
Tonya relayed Brian’s instructions: “14–Putnam, you need to stay out of the building; fire departments are en route. Just stay out of the building, they are just west of Vaughnsville.”
We weren’t sure if Kev would heed our warnings, although we tried keeping him in close check. He answered “OK Putnam” once and that was it. I remember thinking, “Come on fire crews, get there. He’s by himself. Just get there.”
Fire crews responding to the scene reported more help was needed. I called Allen County and asked if they would page for Cairo Fire to assist. Life Flight was put on standby. Apparently, there was an elderly man who was in the home and was unable to escape. It didn’t look good. We were told Life Flight needed to fly.
Life Flight called with a 15-minute estimated time of arrival at a landing zone set up on a baseball field not far from the scene. But it didn’t happen. Low cloud cover forced Life Flight to abort. Patients became the responsibility of EMS arriving on scene.
Tonya and I stayed at our stations as third shift dispatch filed into the center. We continued working until there was a sufficient break for us to get up and switch.
Our adrenaline was high and we were worried about our units, especially Kev. We hugged each other and cried, deciding to drive Tonya’s car to the scene. We hoped that our guys were OK.
Tonya pulled into the street but parked as far away as possible from the cars, fire trucks, and EMS squads lining the streets. It was raining outside and we walked over to a group of firefighters. We asked about Kev. A firefighter removed his helmet; we didn’t know what to expect until turning in the direction he pointed.
There stood Kev. We ran over to him. I put my hand on his shoulder. Tonya hugged him. Kev was his usual quiet, collected self.
Our 9-1-1 coordinator, who’s also an EMT, walked over to us.
“Good job girls,” he said.
Kev took this call hard, despite his heroics of going into the burning home and, ultimately, saving the lives of a woman and boy. A man inside the home didn’t make it out. There was nothing Kev could have done differently. He was a hero. We’re lucky to have him on our team.
So far, this is my most memorable time in dispatch, although I’m sure there will be many more to come. I look up to Kev; he’s one of the bravest individuals I know. He made a difference. No matter what Kev says on that radio or how he says it, I will always be listening and I will always do my best to back him up.