Recognizing first responders

Central Arkansas is fortunate to have many women and men who serve as first responders, some in paid positions and some as volunteers.

For this feature, 501 LIFE asked a handful of first responders representing different groups to share information about their work that helps others in a time of emergency and need.

-Sonja Keith

Heath Merritt

City: Greenbrier.

Education: Arkansas Fire Academy, EMT certified.

Job: Captain, Truck 5, for the Conway Fire Department.

Family: Children — Brittany, Brian and Kendyl; and granddaughter, Emerson.

How long have you been a first responder: I’ve been with the CFD for more than 20 years. I grew up by the fire station on East German Lane and always had a lot of respect for the guys that worked there and the job they did.

Why are you a first responder: Being a fireman is the best job in the world. You never know what will happen during your shift. When others are having the worst day of their lives, whether it’s a medical emergency, car wreck or their house is on fire, that’s when we are trained to be at our best.

What do you enjoy most about being a first responder: We treat every emergency situation we respond to as if it’s one of our family members, and we do everything we can to help them.

Shelia Bellott is the director of the Office of Emergency Management in Faulkner County.

Shelia Bellott

City: Greenbrier.

Job: Director, Office of Emergency Management in Faulkner County. “I was a first responder with the Greenbrier Fire Department for about three years, but my day job kept me so busy, I no longer had time for the fire department, too.”

Family: Son, Spencer White, and daughter, Sierra Hutchens.

Family members who are first responders: Cousins Wesley Stephens and Dale Battles.

How long have you been a first responder: Nine years.

Why are you a first responder: Being a first responder is a part of my job, and I love every aspect of it.

What do you enjoy most about being a first responder: The best part about being a first responder is having the opportunity to assist constituents and my fellow first responders. It’s a tough job, and a lot of what I do is behind the scenes. It is definitely one of the most fulfilling careers one can have.

More information: Most first responders are volunteers. These are hard-working, dedicated people who put their lives on the line to protect life and property of others. These volunteers give of themselves unselfishly every day, putting others before themselves. There are so many in Faulkner County, and I am proud to be a small part of them.

Tamitria Willis and Carlos Owens-Hughes provide emergency medical services through their work for MEMS (Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services).

Carlos Owens-Hughes

City: Little Rock.

Education: El Camino Academy High School in Bogotá, Colombia; bachelor of science degree in psychology, Williams Baptist College.

Job: Emergency Medical Technician, MEMS (Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services). MEMS is the only place I have worked as a first responder. I previously worked at UAMS Kids First as a child development technician.

Family: Wife, Brittany Owens-Hughes; parents, Stan and Debra Owens-Hughes; older sister, Mikaela Otavalo; younger sister, Sierra Estes; and younger brother, Zachary Owens-Hughes.

How long have you been a first responder: One year.

Why are you a first responder: I wanted a job that was proactive in the community.

What do you enjoy most about being a first responder: What I enjoy most is the diversity of the job. My partner and I could be helping a senior citizen to and from a doctor’s appointment one moment and then fighting for someone’s life the next. 

Tamitria Willis

City: Little Rock.

Job: Paramedic for MEMS ambulance service.

How long have you been a first responder: 11 years.

Why are you a first responder: I have a passion and calling from God to help others at all levels.

What do you enjoy most about being a first responder: I enjoy meeting new people and being a support to others in their time of need.

More information: I wish people knew that most first responders do this job for the need and desire to help others and not for the money. First responders sacrifice a lot of family time to be a part of this career.

Lt. Durwin K. Lasker spent time as a patrol deputy, and served as lieutenant over the jail and court security staff before becoming patrol lieutenant in February.

Durwin K. Lasker

City: Conway.

Education: Graduated from South East High School in Kansas City, Mo., in 1988; associate’s degree in applied science with law enforcement emphasis from Southern Arkansas University in 2010.

Job: I currently hold the rank of lieutenant and supervisor over the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Patrol Division.

Family: I was born and raised in Faulkner County and have lived here all my life. I’m married with four children and a large, prominent extended family.

How long have you been a first responder: I have been a first responder and began my law enforcement career in 1999. While working for Office Depot, the late Detective Jim Wooley came into the store to buy a fax machine. I offered my direct phone number to him for any assistance he would need, and he remembered that. He, along with Chief Deputy at the time Steve Wallace, called me into the sheriff’s office a few days later, and after a short discussion said that because of the character and willingness to go above to assist Det. Wooley, they felt like I would be a good fit for the department and for law enforcement.

Why are you a first responder: I am a first responder because I have always wanted to help people. I have changed a tire in the rain so a mother could stay in the car with her baby girl. I have helped strangers push their stalled car out of the middle of the roadway. I have driven a family of four home because they were walking on the side of the road in 105-degree heat. As a kid, my father taught me the Golden Rule, and I apply it as a first responder every day.

What do you enjoy most about being a first responder: The ability to profoundly change an individual’s life when they are at their darkest hour in life. To be a first responder and work in law enforcement, you have to have a servant’s heart. Despite the way we are looked upon, we are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and we all have a drive and calling to serve and protect.