Stephen Sawyer, 20, says he couldn't wait any longer to help a child having seizures

(Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:53 a.m. Jan. 1, 2014, to include additional reaction from the Ellenville Fire District)

An upstate New York volunteer emergency medical technician claims he was suspended after breaking the rules to drive a sick four-year-old child to the hospital in an ambulance. But his bosses say he botched the rescue.

Stephen Sawyer, 20, was at the rescue squad’s headquarters in Ellenville, N.Y., with another EMT and an ambulance driver, when a call came in about a child having seizures.

A paramedic already at the child’s home asked for an ambulance, reports New York’s Times Herald-Record.

Two minutes later, another call came in about an elderly man injured in a fall.

Ellenville Fire Department Capt. John Gavaris said Sawyer had a driver and an EMT available to help the child — but instead sent them to the far less critical call of the elderly man who had fallen down, according to the New York Post.

“The call for the child came first and it was what we call a ‘critical’ call,” Gavaris told the paper. “The other call was a ‘stable’ call. Obviously the driver and the EMT who were ready should have been sent to the first one.”

“He messed up,” Gavaris said. “He should have sent the driver and the EMT who were there to help the child but he didn’t. He waited to go to that call himself and that delayed transportation to it.”

Sawyer drove the ambulance himself the five miles to the child’s house and took the child, his mother and the paramedic to Ellenville Regional Hospital.

“I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night or go to school knowing there’s a four-year-old suffering,” Sawyer told the Herald-Record.

The following Monday, he was called in front of the Ellenville squad’s seven-member board of directors and asked to explain himself.

Sawyer, who is also a volunteer firefighter and part-time police officer, admitted to taking the ambulance despite knowing it was against policy that requires ambulance driver’s to be at least 21 years old.

In a 4-3 decision, the board suspended him for 60 days. It also revoked his title as a youth squad adviser and removed him from the communications committee.

Shocked by the decision, Sawyer resigned on the spot.

Soon after, a story about the incident appeared on the county’s fire rescue Facebook page, where it went viral, with hundreds of comments and more than 1,300 “likes.” The vast majority of posters slammed the actions of the board and expressed outrage the young EMT was penalized so harshly for helping to save a child’s life.

Some comments include:

  • “This is what is wrong with our society? When faced with the decision if we should let someone die or break a rule, we choose to do the latter because it makes sense. There was a story recently about a EMT who let someone die because he didn’t want to break the rules. Sawyer did what anyone with common sense would have done.”
  • “Stephen did what was right, he possibly saved a life. Isn’t that what an ambulance corps is about, saving lives? He didn’t administer drugs. It was not an insurance issue. It was just a policy issue. I wonder if we were to look deeper into the board members who voted against him, what we would find.”
  • “Sawyer will never regret his decision. As for the board, they need to rethink theirs.”
  • “I’ve known Stephen for a few years now. He did a very courageous thing. He took matters into his own hands. This guy, MAN, had a heart unlike all those whom are hating. How could you stand to see a child suffer, or die?”
  • “As a former volunteer EMS provider I can’t believe the blind stupidity of the board in this case. … OK, sure the incident would be under review, but there’s a thing called exigent circumstances. Get your heads out of your proverbial by-the-book rear-ends and understand there’s something between your ears called a brain. Try using it for once instead of being good little minion automatons.”
  • “I would like to know just what the ‘board’ members would have done under the stated circumstances. Armchair quarterbacking is always easy. I suggest that there be a suspension of the board members until they come up with a reasonable policy to cover emergencies like this. I think maybe they would have preferred that Sawyer call a taxi to transport the sick girl and her mother to the hospital. Wake up, you pencil necks.”
  • “This is outrageous. This young man wasn’t out joy-riding, he was serving his people.”
  • “As an EMT myself, I support him in his decision to break the rule.”
  • “As the parent of a two year old myself, I would be exceptionally grateful to Mr. Sawyer for saving my child’s life. … Sawyer is old enough to work for the local police department and a PAID ambulance service, and you are going to criticize him for making a crucial decision to save two lives? Shame on you. A 60-day [suspension] is quite a harsh penalty for saving lives, don’t you think?”
  • “What would you have done to this man if the child had died? Is there no common sense in this world anymore? That man should be getting a commendation for what he did. I ask that you revisit the suspension and use some common sense.”
  • “Having the ability to make executive decisions is the sign of a good leader!”
  • “What if any one of these board members were having a heart attack and they were at the other end of this call? The last thing they want to hear is, ‘Sorry, no ambulances are available. Please hold and we will get back to you as soon as one is available. Thank you for using Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad.’ Every one of those board members should think about how they would want this young man to act.”
  • “The man was only doing what he had to do to save a life. I would have done the same thing. If it were the captain’s daughter, or someone else important, he would have been praised for saving the girl.”
  • “I just hope there is some reconsideration given to the case of Mr. Sawyer. He took a calculated risk to render aid to the population he served. … Just hypothetically, what if he had waited and the patient had died or suffered greater injury? Would this have been a more favorable outcome? I understand the need for your policy. I hope this incident spurs some serious reflection and careful reconsideration of the policy.”

Stephen Sawyer and mother, Leslie Gonzalez (Photo: Facebook)

A woman named Leslie Gonzalez identified herself as Sawyer’s mother in the following post on Facebook:

“I, as his mother, also agree that Stephen shouldn’t [have] resigned,” Gonzalez wrote. “However, I will continue to say that the punishment of 60 days and to take away his position as adviser and position on the communications committee was horrible! That was a shove out the door, and Gavaris new that those were his intentions. Stephen admitted that he did something wrong!!! Where is Gavaris and why is he sitting back like what he did and said was OK?”

The fire captain says Sawyer’s suspension came about not as the result of an isolated incident, but from a “culmination of different personnel incidents,” as well as other aspects of the Dec. 11 emergency call.

“This is the type of story that the public doesn’t need to be told,” Gavaris added. “There’s no value in this story other than shock value and gossip.”

Sawyer contends rules are meant to be broken when someone’s life is at stake.

“As far as policy wise, the guys and girls on the board need to rethink their policies for the good of the community,” Sawyer said. “People shouldn’t have to suffer over policy.”


Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.