A Night to Remember: Volunteer Firefighter Reflects on the Importance of EMS Training

December 20, 2022

Growing up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Justin Solobay watched his parents work hard to provide care within their community. His mother was an OR nurse, and his father was a CT/MRI technician who also volunteered as a firefighter and worked at a private ambulance company. Justin often went with his dad to the firehouse and knew he was destined to follow them in service.

After completing firefighter training in high school, Justin enlisted in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard,  the 171st Refueling Wing, and became a KC-135 Stratotanker crew chief. That experience, along with his security clearance, eventually led to a junior analyst job at the Pentagon. But for Justin, it still wasn’t enough. Fire and EMS pulled at his heart.

Justin continued his fire and EMS training and found the perfect place to put it to great use – the Morningside Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Morningside’s Station 27 is one of the busiest all-volunteer fire and EMS departments in the nation, answering as many as 7,000 calls annually out of a single station. The nationally-recognized department is comprised completely of volunteers who run EMS, rescue and fire response 24/7/365.

Even now, in the middle of the holiday season, with a wife, two children, a full-time job and his military service, Justin says the decision to volunteer is simple for two reasons.

“Number one, I’m a part of a great organization with other men and women who are all committed to serve; and number two, the opportunity to have a direct impact on saving lives is abundantly real at Morningside, every day,” says Justin. “Both reasons are very clear to me, and I can’t point to one or the other as to why I do it.”

“At the end of the day, it is the full depth of the meaning that goes along with both reasons,” Justin added.

The National Registry plays a vital role in Justin’s work as an EMT/Firefighter at Morningside.

“Our ambulance does over 3,000 runs annually, and the National Registry certification establishes the foundation of knowledge to prepare our providers. When you hit the street as an EMT here, you better be ready,” said Justin, who has been Nationally Registered for nearly two years. In 2022, Morningside expanded its EMS program with the addition of ALS services after several members built from their BLS education and earned their National Registry Paramedic certifications. “We’re one of few volunteer departments in the county certified to provide ALS services, and we are tremendously proud of this accomplishment.”

Training and education, really all of Justin’s skills, came together on the night of his most challenging and memorable call.  It was an early morning house fire with people trapped. Justin was driving the second due engine and he recalls assisting the first due engine with the water supply, then quickly putting the culmination of his EMS knowledge and skills to work.

“As I pushed the hose into the front door, out comes a firefighter who just kind of hands the baby to me – a lifeless infant,” recounts Justin. “I quickly grabbed an aid bag and O2 kit and got to work.”
After restoring stable circulation and breathing, he looks up and sees another firefighter with a second child. This time, an unconscious toddler. “I grabbed another aid bag and O2 kit and began working on this patient who was also not breathing and perfusing adequately.”

For many, this would have been a call for the ages. But before additional help arrived, another firefighter brought a teenager out of the blaze. In the short few minutes after arriving on the scene, Justin was leading three resuscitations along with members of the first arriving crew. The three critical patients were lined up 1-2-3 right in the front yard with high-quality care well underway before the first medic unit even arrived on scene.

“It was days before my birthday, and here I am doing CPR, administering O2 and watching this scenario play out,” says Justin. “I remember being very calm and intently focused on the first principles of care; airway-breathing-circulation. It’s a rare occurrence to save one person under these circumstances, but that night we were three for three; that was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.”

At that moment, Justin was a long way from a combat refueling flight, the hallowed halls of the Pentagon, or that suburban Pittsburgh firehouse from his childhood, but he was right where he was supposed to be.

Pictured from left to right are Morningside VFD members Jon Hart, Matt Verlaque, Tom Winship, and Justin Solobay. For more information about Morningside VFD and how to become a volunteer, visit www.morningsidevfd27.com

This is the second in a series of articles about Nationally Registered EMRs, EMTs, AEMTs and Paramedics. The National Registry invites you to be part of the series. If you would like to celebrate your National Registry service, or the service of a fellow provider, you are encouraged to contact the National Registry at CommDept@nremt.org.   

Read More Articles In This Series
Bill Wood - "50 Consecutive Years Of National Registry Certification"
Justin Solobay - "A Night To Remember"
Jessica Cervantez - "Be A Rock In The Moment People Are Falling Apart"
James Avery - "An Unexpected Destiny - How One EMS Provider Discovered Sometimes Fate Has Other Plans"

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Shane Cartmill
Public Relations and Media Manager