He’s not your average AMR/Rural Metro ambulance driver, EMT or paramedic. Neither is his partner of four years. Their “truck” is called various things – “The Dream Team” or “The Geriatric Truck” or “The AARP Special.” Wayne Pack calls himself and his partner “The A Team.”
“When it comes to the age thing, we catch a lot of grief from everyone,” Pack says of himself and his partner of four years, Leon Price. “But I’d put us up against anyone here. We put in more hours, and we know what we’re doing.”
The average age of those EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and paramedics at AMR/Rural Metro is around 25, says Ken Loftis, AMR’s operations manager, who is Pack’s supervisor. Pack, 53 now, has been working in their trucks for 27 years, and Price has been with Rural Metro for 14 years and he’s a spry lad of 67, crew cut and all. His age and years of service qualify Pack as one of the deans of the AMR ambulance crews … and they have approximately 35 crews working daily on their 56 ambulances. Loftis manages 250 field employees – EMTs and paramedics.
When we talked, Price and Pack had just parked their ambulance after a long 12-hour shift that began at 4 a.m. With overtime figured in, they work on average six days a week.
Pack and his family lived on the edge of Lonsdale where he was reared. After graduating from Fulton High School, this Knoxville native, who played three years of football at Fulton, found himself a job but then decided to join the U.S. Army.
“Getting into this work was a fluke,” he says. “I wanted to be an MP (military police) but that didn’t work. They sent me to EMT school and after one or two days I thought to myself, ‘What have I stepped into?’ But after a few days I loved it and it hit me like a fever. It took me over and I’m still doing it today and loving it.”
Pack remained in the U.S. Army Reserves for 27 years while working for Rural Metro and during that time he pulled three overseas tours as a combat paramedic – a year in Kuwait (2004-05), a year in Iraq (2007-08) and a year in Afghanistan (2010-11). And yes, he came under fire. “Very, very scary,” he says.
He’s seen it all – wrecks with multiple fatalities, wrecks with people with life-threatening injuries, people screaming in pain, cars and vehicles on fire, children dead or injured, drug overdoses with people dead or passed out in cars, people, including firefighters, injured in fires, people shot and killed or wounded … and he also delivered a baby in the back of a van several years ago.
In addition to the Emergency 911 calls, they also get their share of responding to people hurt at home from falling, heart attacks, seizures, transporting people to and from doctor’s appointments for dialysis, getting people home from the hospital and being on standby at fire-in-progress calls. As he says, “Whatever comes up.”
It’s a two-man team on the truck, but Price, an EMT, is usually the driver with Pack in the back with the patient. Pack has the necessary certifications – CCM (Critical Care Medicine), ALS (Advanced Life Support), PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support), CPR and PHTLS (Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support). He also earned an associate’s degree from Roane State Community College.
He talks with the emergency rooms and lets them know the condition of the patient who is headed their way, things like the severity of the patient’s injury or issue, blood pressure and heart rate, whether he has started an IV and what meds he has administered.
Two years ago, a 911 call came in to respond to a man down at his home. “When we got to him, he was in full cardiac arrest, no heartbeat for two or three minutes, nothing, unconscious,” Pack recalls. “We shocked him, gave him meds and CPR and finally got a heartbeat. He was lucky. Turns out he was a doctor in his mid-40s and in great shape. That helped save him. We got him in the ambulance and got an IV in and the heart monitor on and headed for the ER. He made it. Total team effort.”
Not long after that Pack and Price were asked to stop at a Rural Metro fire station. When they did, they were told a gentleman had stopped by to thank them and pass along some gift cards. “It was the doctor we saved,” Pack said. “It’s rare when that happens, but we sure appreciated it. We were just doing our job.” For that doctor, what they did was more than just doing their job!
To relax and get away from the pressure when he’s off work, he heads outside. His favorites are rappelling, fishing, shooting and hiking. “Anything outside,” he says.
Pack has also worked side jobs – at Dollywood’s Splash Country as a safety officer. “I’ve put lots of Band-Aids on toes and elbows,” he says. He’s also worked as a paramedic for Roane and Sevier counties and worked for the Knoxville Volunteer Emergency Rescue Squad.
He has seen a lot during his career. What are the major changes he’s seen? “No doubt the equipment is better today, the technology that we have in the ambulance and the technology for training,” he says. “Our people are better trained and the teamwork is a lot better these days between us, the fire and the rescue folks and the police and sheriff’s office. I also think that the public has an improved view and appreciation of what we do.”
Pack was honored as the 2016 Paramedic of the Year for the Region 2 Ambulance Directors Association, which covers Knox County and 15 other East Tennessee counties.
“Wayne’s a top quality professional, and you can’t get much better than Wayne, his integrity, his work ethic,” Loftis says. “It takes a special character to do this work for so long, and Wayne is special.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King.