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Responding first: A day with a Forsyth County deputy and firefighter

Sgt. Gary Clark of the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office


2:29 p.m.


Forsyth County Sheriff's Office Deputy First Class Laura Hoek radios she is en route to a domestic disturbance, responding to dispatch, which has just radioed, “[Caller] is advising their 36-year-old son is somewhere in the house, he lives there, and they want him out.”

The location pops up on Sgt. Gary Clark’s computer; Hoek is one of his deputies.

At the scene, Hoek meets with the complainant – the father of the 36 year-old. He tells her he wants his son out, mainly because of his drinking and verbal threats.

Hoek cannot arrest the son, though – he has not physically harmed his parents, and deputies cannot evict him. That’s a process the homeowners must go through, which Hoek explains.

While Hoek is outside speaking with the complainant, a next door neighbor walks up, asking Hoek if she can look into possible identity theft.

Hoek tells her she will come over when she’s done with the domestic incident – not an unusual call for deputies.

She gives the father information on how to evict someone, takes down his information and calls the son’s probation officer.

She’s done as much as she can as a law enforcement officer and leaves, making her way next door.

A lot of times, this is what a deputy’s day consists of — responding to calls that don’t necessarily qualify as crime but still fall under the scope of law enforcement.

“We have one hat the [sheriff’s office] gives us,” Deputy Jon Beival says. “But I will tell you, we have many different invisible hats that we wear. We are social workers, counselors, babysitters, shoulders to cry on, preachers … a lot of things the public doesn’t realize.”

What the public does see is Clark using his Taser on a man suspected of felony shoplifting later that day.

A call comes in from dispatch that the Cumming Police Department is looking for a suspect accused of felony shoplifting from the Walmart on Market Place Boulevard.

Over the radio, Clark is given the suspect’s description: a white male wearing a gray hoodie with blond hair and a goatee.

It's 4:11 p.m. Clark turns onto Buford Dam Road, where a male matching the description is walking with his head down. “Is that him?” Clark asks, adding a few seconds later, “That looks like him.”

He pulls onto a median and rolls down his window.

“Hold up Boss, what’s up?” he asks the male, who quickens his pace and begins to run when Clark opens his door.

Clark is now yelling “stop right there,” but the man continues to run, putting his hands in his pockets as he flees.

Based on the situation and not knowing if the suspect is reaching for a weapon, Clark pulls out his Taser and discharges it — the probes hit the suspect in the upper left shoulder on his back and on his right ankle.

Immediately, the suspect goes down, cutting his chin on the pavement — he’s just been shocked with up to 50,000 volts of electricity.

Clark tells him get on his belly, to which the suspect complies but refuses to show his left hand, which is hidden under his stomach.

By then, other deputies arrive and help Clark pull the suspect’s hands out from under him and handcuff him.

Because of the gash on his chin, EMS is called to the scene. He will be taken to Northside Hospital-Forsyth, where he will likely get stitches.

Then he’ll be transferred to jail.

This is not a typical day for deputies; while they do fight crime, they work traffic accidents, respond to non-emergency calls, patrol neighborhoods and shopping centers and interact with the community.

For 12 hours, they are on the move, wearing their many invisible hats. But they have to be always ready for anything – that’s a day in the life of a deputy.

Div. Chief Jason Shivers of the Forsyth County Fire Department


1:40 p.m.


Dispatch comes over the radio, “Vickery Creek Elementary for a medical emergency, Engine 2, Med 2, cross street of Dressage Crossing, 6280 Post Road.”

Two minutes later, more information comes through: “Engine 2, Med 2, you’re responding to an 8-year-old child with difficulty breathing. They are administering Albuterol at this time.”

Within minutes, firefighters are on their way to the school — medical calls are the most frequent for Forsyth County firefighters.

Nearly all department personnel are trained as emergency medical technicians (EMTs), a step up from the most basic emergency medical certification of first responder.

Though other counties have different policies, Forsyth requires its firefighters to spend the last 18 weeks of fire training — a 34-week program total — in EMT certification. About eight of every 10 calls fire receives has something to do with the human body, according to Jason Shivers, division chief of technical services.

“There are three tiers of recognized emergency medical certification,” he says. “The lowest tier is called first responder and it’s the most basic level of medical training that’s not much more aggressive than a ramped-up Boy Scout first aid program.

“Then there’s EMT, which we train to now in the fire recruit program, and then there’s paramedic, which is a whole other level [that] allows you to do a lot more invasive procedures, use a lot more medications, do a lot of cardiac work.”

Because the fire department doesn’t transport patients – they contract with a private company for that – it doesn’t require paramedic training.

However, to keep EMT and other fire certification, personnel must go through 240 hours of training yearly, not including training for other specialties.

This means a firefighter’s day is always busy, beginning at 7 a.m., or 0700 hours, and going until around 8 p.m., or 2000 hours.

After 8 p.m., the firefighters can sleep, though it can be hard with the station noise.

They work for 24 hour shifts, every third day, and when they’re home, they’re expected to rest, to be ready for the next shift.

It’s not an easy job, and the men and women wear a lot of hats. They’re medics, they’re community leaders, they’re heroes, they’re spouses, they’re teachers and they’re family to one another.

Firefighters must be alert and prepared to respond at all times, even when they’re not fighting fires. Though their job is to fight fire, in 2015, less than five percent of responses were actually to fires, the overwhelming majority – 54.95 percent – medical calls.

They respond to crashes and carbon monoxide alarms, gas leaks and smoke investigations.

They hold fundraisers and toy drives and offer school programs for children.

And then they respond to another medical call, and another.

For 24 hours, even when resting, the life of a firefighter never stops. Emergency doesn’t stop; neither do they – that’s a day in the life of a firefighter.