Paramedic on grappling with COVID-19 emergencies, realities in a small town

Kylie Harmon is firefighter/paramedic in a town of about 5,500 people

May 2, 2020, 6:06 AM

Kylie Harmon, a 26-year-old firefighter-paramedic, was at work one day in February when she heard about the coronavirus for the first time.

Her colleagues speculated about how scary it would be to be a health care worker in China at the time. None of them expected that the virus would soon come to their small, peaceful town of Brady, Texas.

Brady is a town of about 5,500 people and it's known best for hunting and being the geographical center of Texas. In Brady, Harman says, “everybody knows everybody.”

“We were kind of all in denial that we would be affected by this, especially ... living in a small town,” Harmon told ABC News. “You don't ever think that, you know, you're going to experience anything like this.”

PHOTO: Kylie Harmon is a firefighter/paramedic serving a community of about 5,5,00 people.
Kylie Harmon is a firefighter/paramedic serving a community of about 5,5,00 people.
Kylie Harmon

Now, Harmon faces sleepless nights as her mind is consumed by thoughts of the coronavirus, COVID-19. As a firefighter-paramedic, she is one of the health care workers on the ground responding to the pandemic. Her personal story can be heard in this week’s episode of the ABC News podcast “The Essentials: Inside the Curve.”

The Brady Fire Department is taking new precautions as they respond to COVID-19 patients. Typically, there are five people per shift, but now only one person is permitted to go into a house to assess a patient.

“That is a scary feeling, especially when you're used to having four other people to bounce ideas off,” Harmon said. “So it's definitely been a challenge, but it's actually been very exciting and it's made me really think outside the box.”

Harmon said that due to the town’s size and location, it is faced with unique challenges in battling the coronavirus. Although there is a hospital in Brady, if a patient needs to be transported to a trauma center or cath lab, they must travel about 45 minutes. Harmon said this could mean being in close quarters in the back of the ambulance for a longer period of time with a potential COVID-19 patient.

As a paramedic, Harmon has seen how the coronavirus is affecting more patients than just those who test positive. She said that as people are quarantining, the Brady Fire Department has seen an increase in calls for overdoses, suicide attempts and abuse. She reflected on one especially difficult shift in which she responded to three overdoses within a few hours.

"People are stuck at home and people that live alone ... they can't go see their friends and family,” Harmon said. “I mean, people truly are going crazy at home.”

This week, Texas started to take steps toward a slow reopening of the state. On Monday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that his stay-at-home order would expire on Thursday. On Friday, all retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums and libraries were permitted to start operating with limited occupancy.

“I know at some point we are going to have to open everything back up,” Harmon said. “I just really think that slower would be better.”

Harmon lives alone. Her boyfriend, David Walker, is also a firefighter paramedic in a town about an hour-and-a-half away. Harmon and Walker both work according to the same schedule: They are on-duty for 48 hours and then off for 96 hours. According to Harmon, it has always been a challenge dating someone in the same field who works these same long hours. Due to the coronavirus, Harmon hasn’t seen Walker in two weeks, and instead communicates with him through calls and texts.

“I'll call him and say, well, you know, we just transferred this patient and I really feel like ... that patient was positive,” she said. “And so it's nice to have him to reassure me that everything's gonna be OK and, you know, no matter what happens ... we are gonna get through this.”

Before the coronavirus, Harmon and Walker would spend time outdoors kayaking, fishing and hunting. Harmon said her life before the coronavirus was “very adventurous” and that she enjoyed traveling and intended to be on a cruise at the end of April.

On March 19, Harmon and her two sisters visited a winery and took a photo together. Reflecting on this photo brought her back to a moment before the coronavirus hit and her life changed.

Kylie Harmon seen here with her two sisters at a winery on March 19, 2020.
Kylie Harmon seen here with her two sisters at a winery on March 19, 2020.
Kylie Harmon

Now, she is finding ways to pass the time and take her mind off of the coronavirus on her days off.

“I have picked up gardening, so at least I get to do something outside and that does make me feel a little bit like myself,” she said. “I snuck off to the creek that we have in Brady a few days ago and went fishing. So when I'm doing things like that, I do definitely forget that we are in the middle of a pandemic.”

The ABC News podcast, “The Essentials: Inside the Curve,” features first-person diaries from the people on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, the essential workers risking their own health and safety to ensure others are taken care of. Subscribe for free at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and wherever else to get your podcasts.

Another good distraction for Harmon has been preparing for nursing school. She has been wanting to move into nursing for a few years now and was recently admitted into a nursing program — she begins classes on May 4. Even in the midst of a pandemic, Harmon isn’t afraid to shift into this new career.

“I want to help people and even if that's putting myself at risk," she said. "That's something that I'm willing to do."

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