SALT LAKE CITY — Awards are nice, and accolades appreciated, but Weber State University alumnus Zackery Hatch said the richest reward he has enjoyed as Utah’s Paramedic of the Year was meeting the people he helped save in unusual and life-threatening circumstances.
In a recent ceremony, the Utah Bureau of Emergency Medical Services honored Hatch as both Paramedic of the Year and as a member of the team involved with Incident of the Year.
Hatch, who graduated from the WSU paramedic program in 2005, works full time for West Valley City Fire Department, and continues his association with the university as the lead instructor and coordinator for the evening paramedic course and skills camps.
Hatch and his colleague, Cody Fisher, were both acknowledged for their skills and quick thinking the day they performed an emergency tracheotomy in the back of an ambulance to save a grandmother from choking. The call came when every firefighter in West Valley City was engaged in battling an apartment fire.
The two paramedics responded to a family picnic, where they found a woman unconscious, blue and barely breathing. The family’s attempts at the Heimlich maneuver had failed. Hatch and his partner used forceps to extract one large mass of food, then according to the report, “The patient gasped … and the obstruction became further lodged.”
Hatch called for assistance from South Salt Lake Fire Department, so he and his partner could stay in the back of the ambulance. On the ride to the hospital, they realized their patient wouldn’t survive the drive, so the two paramedics performed an emergency airway puncture. Doctors at the hospital said it was a bold, life-saving decision — successfully achieved with limited resources.
“She and her kids and grandkids showed so much gratitude when we got to meet them later,” Hatch said. “It was pretty neat and humbling. Usually we don’t get to see the happy outcome — we just leave people at the hospital door — so that was great.”
As a member of the team recognized for “Incident of the Year,” Hatch also helped save a young man pinned in a train car when a load of metal had shifted. Rail workers found the young man trapped and nearly dead on the car apparently he had jumped to catch a ride. Hatch and others tried to move him but couldn’t budge the heavy load pinning his leg. Instead they stabilized the young man and called surgeons who amputated his leg in the railcar. By the next day, the young man was well enough to meet Hatch and offer his thanks.
“I know we have the ability to make a difference in every call we go on,” Hatch said. “I don’t think any of us look at ourselves as heroes; it’s just what we do. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else trying to save a life, but it is special to have the skills and education to assist people who are going through probably the worst situations of their lives.”
Hatch credits the Weber State paramedics program for teaching him life-saving essentials, which he passes on as an instructor himself.
“I love Weber State. I’ve worked hard for the university,” Hatch said. “But I wouldn’t be where I am without the whole paramedic program.”
Hatch works closely with the program’s director, associate professor Jeffrey R. Grunow. Grunow is the first Emergency Medical Services (EMS) faculty member in Utah to earn the designation of Nationally Certified Emergency Medical Services Educator (NCEE) from the National EMS Educators Certification board (NEMSEC).
The NCEE certification took on added importance on Jan 1, 2013, when it became a requirement that all students taking the National Registry paramedic exam complete a nationally accredited paramedic education program. WSU’s paramedic program was the first accredited program in Utah and one of the earliest in the nation. For the past six years, WSU students have had a 97 percent first-time pass rate on the test compared to the national average of 69 percent.