HUNTINGTON - When Dave McClure graduated from Meigs High School in 2003, he joined the Pomeroy Volunteer Fire Department in his Ohio hometown.
He liked it. He liked the energy of being part of emergency response. He liked helping people.
So he started studying to become an EMT at Hocking College, eventually undergoing enough training to become a paramedic and then getting further certification to become a critical care paramedic.
Today, he puts all that training to use every day on the streets of Huntington, as a paramedic and lieutenant assistant shift supervisor for Cabell County EMS.
The 31-year-old - who is married to nurse practitioner/nursing instructor Brittany McClure and is father of a daughter, son and baby on the way - has been working in Huntington since 2010 and working in the field for 11 years. His days are filled with helping community members get through some of the most difficult situations of their lives.
"There's really no routine day," he said. "You can have routine, but at the same time, you never know what's going to happen in the next hour, so there's that level of excitement that's involved."
In terms of medical training, he's much like a nurse who does as much as possible on site instead of at a hospital. An EMT is trained in CPR, first aid, giving oxygen, taking vitals and giving some medications, among other things. Paramedics have a broader scope of practice that is closer to what a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse might do at a medical facility, and critical care paramedics are certified to give more dangerous medications, treat more critical patients and transport patients from outlying hospitals to Huntington, or from Huntington to larger hospitals in other cities.
It's a job that requires as much sensitivity as medical training.
"They're calling you on their roughest day, normally, so they're obviously in a bad state," McClure said. "You have to learn how to be personable with them and, at the same time, recognize that they're critical and take care of that. You have to learn how to multitask. A lot of times, we go into scenes where you have to keep a watchful eye to make sure it's safe around you and, at the same time, take care of the patient."
The most common daily events are patients with chronic breathing problems or chest pain. He also responds to a lot of car accidents.
The most difficult days are the ones on which a child doesn't make it, he said.
"It's not an everyday thing, but when it does happen, it's never easy," he said. "We see elderly people die quite often, and that's not easy, but it's more natural. When you see a child die or any kid, it's hard on everybody. Whether it be by a car accident or an infant who dies of SIDS, it's never easy. You never get used to that. That's the hardest part of the job, especially when you have your own kids at home, or nieces and nephews or whatever the case may be."
Another extremely difficult day was Aug. 15, when there were 28 overdoses in the city of Huntington within about four hours.
Overdoses in general have increased dramatically since he came to Huntington six years ago, McClure said. They used to be occasional. Now he estimates, roughly, there's an average of five a day when he's working. Ten a day is not unusual, though.
"I really started seeing a major change about three years ago, when it started becoming a norm in our daily operations to have drug overdoses, mainly heroin," he said. "This year has been the worst that I've experienced."
That's not only because of what happened on Aug. 15, but is cumulative over the months, he said.
Aug. 15 was certainly the worst he's ever experienced.
"It started out like a normal day, and then around 3 or 3:30, it started blowing up all at once," he said. "We had one call come in over in the West End for a car wreck that ended up being an overdose. Then 10 minutes later, they all started right there in the Marcum Terrace area."
A dispatcher informed him of rumors that a dangerous batch of heroin, likely laced with something much stronger, had come to town.
"A caller told dispatch that people were coming in and dying everywhere," McClure said. Often, people who have overdosed look dead, he said. They're not breathing.
"It's the time period between when you stop breathing and when your heart stops beating (that you can be saved)," he said. "There's not much safe area there. Some of these patients, if they're alone or hidden where no one can find them, that's a problem. ... A lot of these patients completely quit breathing, but their hearts are still going for a while. Luckily, most of them, we were able to get to them in time. Within five to 10 minutes, it's not going to take long for at least brain damage, that's for sure."
He was on site for about 14 of the overdose calls that afternoon and evening, in which the patients were revived with naloxone - sometimes more than one dose. Only two patients of the 28 died. One died later in the hospital after being revived, and one wasn't found until days later.
"You just go about those calls like any other," McClure said. "You go in there with your mind on task. You're there to do your job and help people as much as possible. I don't want to say that we've gotten used to running those calls, but in a sense, we have. They've gotten a lot more common for us, so we're able to handle them easier now than what we would have been able to five or 10 years ago."
The city was fortunate not to have gotten a lot of calls for other health crises during that four hours, McClure said.
He's proud of the work they did.
"It would be taxing to do that day in and day out," McClure said. "Everyone on our shift left that day feeling pretty good about themselves, like they accomplished something. Everyone did. They did a superb job."