Q&A: Emergency responders honored, meet Eatonville family they helped save

Staff writerMarch 16, 2014 

Left to right: Wyatt Harris, Doug Harris, Robert Martin, Shawn Prather, Sarah Swart and Jill Pereira. Center, front: Sara Harris.

COURTESY PHOTO — Jennifer Watters

Paramedic Sarah Swart rushed to save 7-year-old McKenzie Harris when her family was in a New Year’s Day crash near the family’s Eatonville home.

The first responder with Eatonville Fire & Rescue worked to get the girl to the hospital right away and helped care for her in the process.

She and other emergency personnel from multiple agencies were recognized Saturday at a fundraiser to help with the Harrises’ ongoing medical expenses.

Sara and Doug Harris, daughter McKenzie, 3-year-old son Wyatt, and two nieces were hurt in the head-on crash, which killed 48-year-old Glenn Fitting, the driver of the other vehicle. Washington State Patrol troopers said Fitting might have had a medical emergency that caused his vehicle to cross the center line.

McKenzie is quadriplegic as a result of the crash, and has been undergoing therapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital. 

When Swart got to the scene New Year’s Day, she was assigned to get McKenzie, the most critical patient, to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.

She met the other members of the Harris family for the first time Saturday, and hopes to visit McKenzie soon.

Q: Explain your role as a paramedic on this call.

A: We got called in; there were already units that had established the scene. We were the first to pick up the most critical patient, which was McKenzie. She was laying on a backboard. We picked her up and got her out of there and headed to the hospital.

Q: Is most of the care done at the scene, or in the ambulance on the way?

A: The majority of the care was done en route. She was intubated en route. Monitored. Certain drugs were given to her.

Q: How do crews respond to emergencies with multiple patients?

A: The first unit will typically find out how many patients are there and how badly they’re injured. Red, which was McKenzie, means critical. She was our No. 1 patient.

There was a total of 16 fire units on scene to include medic units, engines, a ladder truck and chief officers. Those units came from Graham Fire & Rescue, South Pierce Fire & Rescue, Eatonville Fire & Rescue, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue, and West Pierce Fire & Rescue. Along with several different law enforcement agencies. 

Q: How do you follow up to find out how a patient is doing after you leave them at the hospital?

A: There are people at the hospital that we’re able to contact. I called Mary Bridge and then followed up with Harborview, where she went afterward.

Q: Was it an emotionally difficult call to respond to?

A: Yes. Anytime it’s a child, it’s really hard. I have a 12-year-old and an 8-year-old. Both girls. So it hits home.

Q: What do you enjoy about being a paramedic?

A: I like the variety. Every patient is kind of like a puzzle. You always have to figure out what’s going on. I have to think on my toes. And I enjoy taking care of people.

Q: What are the difficult parts of the job?

A: Just the different things that you see. The tragedy. The death.

Q: What should people know about how emergency crews respond to a crash such as the one the Harrises were in?

A: Everybody works as a team. Regardless of what department we come from or what area we come from, we’re always working for the same common goal when something like this happens.

It’s amazing to see how many people get together and how smoothly it works after such a horrific accident. Because of how we communicate with each other. It takes a lot of people to make something like that run well. I think everybody did an amazing job on this accident.

Q: Can you tell me about Saturday night?

A: This was the first time I personally was able to meet the Harris family since the accident, and it was an emotional event with tearful eyes and lots of hugs. It was a blessing to meet such an amazing, strong family that is focusing on healing and staying positive. A few of the firefighters that were involved in the incident have plans to go meet McKenzie in the near future and can’t wait to see her beautiful smile. 

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8286





The fund raiser

Organizer Jennifer Watters said more than $7,000 was raised Saturday night from the dinner, silent auction and raffle. They also sold "Team McKenzie" t-shirts.

She thinks more than 400 people came. They ran out of the 80 pounds of spaghetti and meatballs donated, and had to find more to feed the incoming guests.

Some of McKenzie's classmates from Nelson Elementary School attended to show off artwork the class made in support of the family.

McKenzie's girl scout troop has also sold cookies, including some at the dinner, to benefit the Harrises. Watters said more than 2,000 boxes have been sold.

In addition to the Graham and Eatonville Fire personnel, Watters said two troopers who responded New Year's Day also came later in the evening to meet the Harrises.

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