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Firefighter vet state's top EMT

Special photoGwinnett Fire Department Capt. Ken Wilson, recently named Georgia's EMT of the Year, assisted Haitians from a makeshift clinic in a school bus on a recent mission trip to the embattled country.

Special photoGwinnett Fire Department Capt. Ken Wilson, recently named Georgia's EMT of the Year, assisted Haitians from a makeshift clinic in a school bus on a recent mission trip to the embattled country.

BUFORD -- Ken Wilson helped run a makeshift medical clinic in the back of a school bus, boiling in the 95-degree swelter of an embattled Haitian province outside Port Au Prince, helping 150 patients in one day with ailments from scrapes to strokes.

That was a Ken Wilson vacation. A mission trip, like a previous eye-opening sojourn to Bolivia. In his eyes, it was no big deal.

Quick to deflect praise, Wilson, 45, insists his successes as a Gwinnett County Fire Department captain are the result of a strong supporting cast, the same people who nominated him against emergency personnel across the state for Georgia's 2011 EMT of the Year.

An honor that Wilson alone won.

The criteria was pretty straightforward. The Georgia Association of Emergency Medical Services was looking to honor an EMT who went "far above and beyond the call of duty," whether in direct delivery of patient care or in community programs.

His colleagues said Wilson had all that in spades.

"Like so many others in his field, Wilson gives of himself both on and off the job," said Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge. "What sets (him) apart from others is the fact that he not only serves at his home station ... but even on an overseas mission trip, Ken didn't hesitate when asked to provide medical attention and care to others in need."

A panel of five judges selected Wilson from more than 20 nominees across Georgia, said T. Jeff Smith, president of the GAEMS' Providers Division.

"Wilson was selected for the level of commitment to his service and his community," Smith said.

Son to a former Fire Department captain, brother to a freshly retired battalion chief, Wilson makes his home in Buford with his two kids, ages 15 and 19, and wife, Kecia, a bookkeeper at Buford Middle School. The 14-year veteran is stationed at Buford's Station 14, after logging most his career at a Norcross station near Jimmy Carter Boulevard.

The nomination came unbeknownst to Wilson. He was flabbergasted to learn he'd won in May.

"I don't count myself as a great EMT, or even a great fireman. I consider myself average," Wilson said. "I think mostly I'm representing our department. We do have some great folks."

Earning bonus points was Wilson's service with the Critical Incident Stress Management Team, providing emotional support for personnel who've handled tragic calls, especially those involving pediatric fatalities, he said. The team fosters group talks and can refer their brethren to psychiatrists, if need be.

"Those things are hard to handle," Wilson said. "If you hold stuff in, it's going to build up and can really cause problems later on."

Former Sugar Hill Mayor George Haggard spotted the potential in Wilson as his boss in the '90s. When the businessman sold Haggard Enterprises, effectively cutting short Wilson's former career path, he nudged the young father toward the Fire Department.

"I knew he would make Gwinnett a fine young employee," said Haggard, "and that he would go places."

The honor earned Wilson a plaque and trophy, which he's bestowed on a keepsake-laden space in his Buford home. He's coined it "the fire room."