Janesville88.2°

Paramedic has spent a lifetime saving lives

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
January 14, 2008
— Mark Shelton was working for a local builder when he noticed a newspaper ad that the Janesville Fire Department was hiring.

“I thought, ‘This might not be a bad gig,’” Shelton said.


He was right.


Shelton scored high on the firefighter test and was hired Aug. 3, 1974.


He went to basic EMT school, but when he finished six months later, Janesville was in the midst of a huge effort to start a paramedic program.


The TV show “Emergency!” had made “paramedic” a household word.


“I wanted to be part of that excitement,” Shelton said.


After more training, he was made a paramedic in June 1975.


Shelton’s goal after 10 years on the ambulance was to make it 20 years. When he made it that long, he wondered if he could stick with it for 30.


He did.


Shelton retired Dec. 27, making him the longest-serving career paramedic in Janesville and in Wisconsin, said Gerry Luiting, deputy chief.


“It started off fast, transitioned, and the last few years have flown by,” Shelton said.


The appeal in the beginning “was the excitement of something new.”


Later, it was the fact “we can make a difference and save lives,’’ he said.


In the beginning, Shelton said, the paramedic program wasn’t accepted in the medical community. Paramedics had to get verbal directives from doctors at Mercy Hospital to do bandaging and intravenous therapy, Shelton said.


But as trust built, written protocols were developed and “it got a lot easier. Now, there are very few skills we’re not allowed to do,” he said.


After spending one-third of his life at the fire department—sleeping, eating and going on calls—Shelton said co-workers have become a second family.


“You develop bonds and even do a lot of off-duty functions together,’’ he said.


Although Shelton enjoyed firefighting, he liked being a paramedic even more.


“When the tone went off and you go out the door, you have to make decisions, operate and control the situation,” he said.


Shelton said his personality helped him cope with the suicides, fatal crashes and other grisly tragedies.


“Getting excited and emotional will only get in the way. So I focused on what was broken and what I needed to do to fix it,’’ he said.


When he saved lives, he was elated to know he made a difference.


When lives were lost, Shelton critiqued himself, asking if he did everything possible, and then reminded himself that whatever happened was God’s choice.


Realistically, “you know you can’t save everybody and that people are going to die,” he said.


In retirement, Shelton plans to travel and continue teaching EMT and paramedic classes at Mercy Hospital’s training center, where he’s been teaching since the late 1980s.


The national average on the ambulance is five to 10 years, Shelton said.


But for him, it was something he wanted to do.


“That’s why I started, even though I love all aspects of the fire department.”


Paramedic memories

Janesville Fire Department Lt. Mark Shelton, who retired Dec. 27 after more than 33 years, shared his five most memorable calls:


-- As Shelton and his new bride posed for wedding photos after exchanging vows, the pastor’s babysitter ran into the church screaming. The pastor and his wife took off for the parsonage next door, and Shelton followed.


When he arrived, Shelton found the pastor holding his young daughter. She was limp, unconscious and not breathing. She had fallen and hit her head hard on the TV. Shelton grabbed the girl and revived her with about a minute of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.


On-duty paramedics arrived and transported the girl to the hospital, Shelton returned to the church to finish his wedding pictures.


Years later, he received a card from the girl, thanking him on her 18th birthday for saving her life.


-- Shelton and his partner arrived at a rollover accident west of Janesville and found a man lying on his back outside of the vehicle. His right foot was on top of his head.


When Shelton asked the man where he hurt, the man told him his shoulder was killing him.


Shelton thought that was odd because the man’s leg was so badly busted. The man couldn’t feel anything in his left leg, couldn’t move his foot or wiggle his toes. Shelton feared the man would end up being a paraplegic.


Moments later, Shelton discovered the man couldn’t feel anything from his waist down because he had been a paraplegic for years before the crash.


-- As Shelton assessed the condition of a woman whose car had smashed by a semitrailer truck on Interstate 90/39, he heard screeching tires and crunching metal. He looked up and saw a semi pushing another car sideways toward him.


After quickly telling the woman he’d be back, Shelton slammed shut the driver-side door, took two steps back and jumped over the trunk, landing on the other side of the car. The car being pushed by the semi swiped the woman’s vehicle where Shelton had stood only seconds earlier.


Shelton and his partner were safe and went back to helping the woman, who had become hysterical.


-- Shelton and two other firefighters responded to a car fire on Interstate 90/39 during a whiteout blizzard. After stopping the fire engine behind the car, the tailboard firefighter climbed out to set up the emergency sign.


Just as the tailboard rider disappeared from Shelton’s side-mirror view, the engine driver yelled at Shelton to “Hang on!” because they were about to get hit by a semitrailer truck. Shelton heard a crunch as the semi flew by. He jumped out to check on his tailboard man, expecting to find him dead.


Instead, he found him standing safely in the ditch.


-- After a call to a softball diamond at Back O’ the Yards tavern, Shelton found a pulseless, non-breathing young man lying on the field. Shelton and the other paramedic began doing everything they were trained to do so they could transport the man as quickly as possible.


When the injured man woke in the emergency room, the first words out of his mouth were: “Did I get him out?”


Shelton said the guy was playing an infield position when the batter hit a line drive that smacked the man square in the chest. The ball hit so hard it stopped his heart, Shelton said.


But before losing consciousness, the man had thrown out the batter at first base.



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