Sheriff’s deputies Trevor Jensen and Aaron Ordoñez received commendations at last week’s Grant County Commission meeting for going above and beyond the call of duty in a particularly difficult call.
The call involved an unusual amount of medical assistance, including the driving of an ambulance by Ordoñez, which he had done only once before in his eight-year career with the department. Offering medical assistance, however, is not an insignificant part of law enforcement duties, and officials say initiatives are being taken within the department that reflect this need.
According to a police report, on Nov. 3 around 12:15 pm, a 911 caller in Arenas Valley reported an unresponsive man found on her property. She said she had just sold her home, and had told the 44-year-old man that if he could remove some steel from her property, he could have it, according to what she later told Ordoñez.
According to the report, the woman went into a barn on the property to get some buckets, and when she returned, she found the man hanging on to the doorjamb of his truck and she said she thought he was having a seizure. He fell to the ground, where she attempted to administer CPR before and while calling 911. She said he was unresponsive, and did not have a pulse.
EMTs arrived first, followed by Ordoñez, who immediately called Jensen for backup.
“We needed another body to help with CPR,” Ordoñez said. “At the time, it was only myself and an older gentleman doing CPR, while paramedics were trying to intubate.”
Ordoñez explained that while the older gentleman was an experienced EMT, CPR is very physically demanding, even for the fittest responder. Ordoñez, Jensen and responding medical personnel took turns in two positions: one doing chest compressions, the other suctioning fluid from the man’s mouth while squeezing a bag of air into his lungs.
Other interventions included Narcan and epinephrine, used to treat opioid overdose and allergic reactions, respectively. The patient responded to neither.
After speaking with a doctor at Gila Regional Medical Center, the team was told to transport the man to the hospital.
Knowing that all hands were needed to continue the CPR, Ordoñez jumped into the driver’s seat of the ambulance, while Jensen followed in his own police vehicle.
Ordoñez knew what to do this time, he said, because he had been thrown into a similar situation years ago, when he was brand-new on the force.
“Afterward, the paramedic in back said to take the turns slower,” Ordoñez recalled. “The ambulance isn’t like any old car — there’s a big box on the back with people.”
With this hard-won wisdom and years’ more experience, Ordoñez said that while he considered his cargo, his focus was on the road.
“During the day, it’s harder to see emergency lights,” he explained. “Even though the lights and sirens are on, a lot of people have their radios on and are not paying attention in their rearview mirrors.”
Ordoñez pulled up to the Gila Regional Medical Center emergency bay and immediately jumped in back again to help relieve his cohort on CPR duty. He accompanied the gurney into the ER, where nurses and doctors took over.
Physically fatigued and out of breath after more than 45 minutes of CPR, Ordoñez said he went straight back to work. Jensen was there to drive him back to his vehicle in Arenas Valley.
Although it doesn’t happen frequently, Sheriff Frank Gomez said that law enforcement driving an ambulance is not unheard of. Officers often respond with medical assistance, and in acute cases, the driver — who is also usually an EMT — is needed to assist with the patient.
“In the county, most emergencies are EMS,” Gomez said. “But if [a case] is severe … Dispatch makes a determination based on protocol about whether to page an officer.”
Ordoñez said that all law enforcement officers in New Mexico are required to have basic CPR training. He estimates that about 35-40 percent of calls he responds to require some kind of medical response from him, most often CPR.
“It’s just so we can free up some hands,” he said. “Anyone on the scene is there to help where they’re needed.”
Deputies are also trained to administer other basic treatments, such as bandages and tourniquets, which are included in the trauma packets that each officer now carries.
“Four or five months ago, we bought trauma bags,” Gomez said. Gila Regional “EMS Director Eloy Medina did the training.”
Ordoñez said that the department is also looking into offering basic EMT training. He said that while he would be interested — and he could help in more situations if he had more training — it wouldn’t have impacted the Nov. 3 calls.
As for the commendation, Ordoñez said it was his first in eight years.
“It’s kinda nice to be recognized,” he said. “But with this kind of job, you do a lot of good things, and you’re not always gonna get recognized.”
And when he first got the call to be at a County Commission meeting the day before to receive an award, Ordoñez said he didn’t have any guesses as to what it was for.
Jo Lutz may be reached at [email protected]