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First responders mourn the loss of Washington Co. EMS director

June 28, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • A black sash hangs over the engine bay at Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. Thursday in remembrance of Washington County Emergency Medical Services Director Brigitte Heller, who died Thursday of injuries from a June 14 traffic accident.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The family, friends and colleagues of Washington County Emergency Medical Services Director Brigitte Heller, who died Thursday of injuries suffered in a traffic accident earlier this month, remembered her as a dedicated and passionate member of the rescue community.

Kevin Lewis, director of the Washington County Division of Emergency Services, said EMS employees intend to remember Heller, among other things, by wearing a black mourning strip over their badges.

Lewis said EMS personnel were told about Heller’s death Thursday morning. The whole department was saddened by her loss.

“Brigitte was a person who dedicated her entire life to emergency services,” Lewis said. “Her passion, her drive were tremendous.”

Lewis said he and Heller started working together at Washington County Emergency Services in 2006.

“It’s a tremendous void because of all the different agencies and projects she was involved with,” Lewis said. “It will be important to find (a replacement) with the same passion.”

Heller’s mother, Penny Mongan, and son, Terry Doyle, both echoed Lewis, saying she unselfishly gave countless hours to her job, but still showed tremendous love and compassion for her family.

“This has been her whole life since she was about 16 years old,” Mongan said.

Doyle compared his mother’s personality to an M&M — hardened through her work but sweet to those she loved.

“She just had a little bit of a hard exterior, but she was super sweet once you got passed that,” he said. “That’s truly how my mom was.”

Heller was injured June 14 when the Nissan Xterra that she was driving was struck by another vehicle on U.S. 50 near Easton, Md.

Heller was taken to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Medical Center in Baltimore, where she had been listed in critical condition since her arrival.

A hospital spokeswoman said Heller died Thursday morning.

“We’ve had a ton of support from the fire and rescue community, and everybody in the community, really,” Doyle said. “The last two weeks have been, by far, the hardest two weeks of my life. They were brutal.”

Doyle said every day at the hospital was filled with ups and downs, as doctors “would call us with good news, then call us with bad news” as her condition worsened day by day.

“She was very tough; just her body wasn’t physically strong enough to hold on,” he said. “It was by far the hardest decision my sister and I have ever made, and the hardest two weeks of our lives.”

Heller’s daughter, 19-year-old Brittany Heller, also was riding in the Nissan. Officials said she was taken to Memorial Hospital in Easton, then transferred to the shock trauma center.

Brittany Heller was released from the hospital on June 17.

The Easton Police Department said the accident occurred at about 7:30 a.m., when a 2006 BMW 750Li being driven by a 17-year-old boy went left of the centerline and struck Heller’s Xterra.

The Xterra came to rest on its roof.

Easton police Lt. Gregory Wright said Thursday that the driver of the BMW, whose name has not been released, had not been charged.

“We want to wait for the blood-alcohol tests to get back,” Wright said.

He said the Talbot County State’s Attorney’s Office also was working on the case.

An EMS pioneer
On Thursday, firefighters raised a black curtain above a bay door at the Maugansville Goodwill Volunteer Fire Co. to remember Heller.

A black curtain also was draped over the door at Boonsboro Ambulance and Rescue Service, where Heller was a lifetime member.

Mary Jane Blickenstaff, president of Boonsboro Ambulance and Rescue Service, said she met Heller in 1982.

She said Heller was one of the pioneers involved with establishing an ambulance and rescue service in Boonsboro in the mid-1980s.

Although Heller hadn’t been on an ambulance call in a long time because of her position with the county, Blickenstaff said her friend still helped with fundraisers to support the organization.

“She was always busy, but never too busy to help a friend,” Blickenstaff said. “We knew (her death) was coming, but we’re shocked .... She’s in a better place. She had a lot of friends in Washington County.”

Blickenstaff said Heller had been teaching basic emergency medical technician classes before the accident.

Heller not only trained EMTs, but helped get the Boonsboro Ambulance and Rescue Service certified in providing advanced life support to patients, Blickenstaff said.

She said that before Boonsboro received the advanced life support certification, accident victims had to wait for certified paramedics from Community Rescue Service and Sharpsburg Ambulance. By providing the service in Boonsboro, patients received care sooner, saving vital minutes in response time, she said.

County, city remember
In a statement, the Washington County Board of Commissioners said Heller was “an exemplary employee of the county” who was “dedicated to saving lives and promoting emergency medical services throughout Washington County and the State of Maryland.”

“She served with the county for almost six years and, prior to that time, was employed by the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association,” the release said. “She was a volunteer with Boonsboro EMS Co. 69 and the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway Co. 26.”

The city of Hagerstown flag will be flown at half-mast Friday and through the weekend in recognition of Heller, city officials said  Thursday.

“The City of Hagerstown offers our condolences to Brigitte’s family, friends and the greater fire and rescue community,” Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said in the statement. “She was an integral part of Washington County EMS and she will be sadly missed.

Funeral arrangements were being made through Osborne Funeral Home in Williamsport.

Staff writers Don Aines and C.J. Lovelace contributed to this story.

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