Lives at stake

I can’t think of a more important job than saving a life.  Sometimes it can be in a very controlled environment when skill and precision are paramount – think of a surgeon in an operating room.  Sometimes it can be in the middle of chaos, when faced with a situation we never envisioned.  The heroic actions of the King County Metro bus driver, Eric Stark, who got his passengers to safety after being shot in Lake City is an example.  And sometimes, it may not involve blood or physical trauma, but mental and emotional wounds.  Those are the kind of lifesavers I saw this week.

I had the honor of participating in the Sheriff Department’s Annual Awards Recognition Ceremony this week.  I am always humbled by the experience – hearing about the actions that rise to the top each year to get special recognition.  It may come as no surprise that there are Medal of Valor and Team Medal of Valor awards.  But there are also Lifesaving Medal and Team Lifesaving Medal awards.

This year, the lifesavers recognized are all deputies who intervened in suicide attempts – stepping up to preserve the life of a person, who at that moment, saw no reason to keep on living.

In two instances, our patrol deputies acted quickly to grab someone who was already over a rail about to jump.  Our Corrections team stopped an inmate who was in the process of hanging himself.  In each case, our deputies bought these people time – time to get well, and to reconsider their future and the value of their life.  Thank you, Deputies Adam Pawlak, Chad Thompson, Rees Evans, and Corrections Deputies and Sergeants Jackie Caruso, Tyeanne Lubking, Stan Starks, Robert Miller and Erika Thompson.

Two additional quick side notes on the Award Ceremony.  First, Deputy Dennis Robinson, Corrections Deputy Antonio Graham, and OA Sandra Heideman were awarded the Team Lifesaving Medal, and R. C. Baggett, Facilities Management, and Ginnava Hooft from District Court received a Certificate of Appreciation for the entire group’s quick action to help save a visitor to the CCB when they had a medical emergency.

Secondly, I proudly watched Deputy Fred Wiggins be recognized as the Law Enforcement Deputy of the Year.  He took me on my first ride-a-long as County Executive.  Congratulations Deputy Wiggins!

With Deputy Fred Wiggins

Sadly, as we gathered to celebrate our heroes, another hero on the other side of the mountains was being laid to rest.

We join the Kittitas County Sheriff’s department and the family of Deputy Ryan Thompson as they mourn his loss.

Finally, I want to give a special shout out to Julie Williams, the department’s chief of staff.  Yesterday, she received the Sheriff’s Core Values Award and today is her last day before she starts her well-earned retirement.  Thanks, Julie, for the many years you’ve spent serving our residents – we appreciate it!

On Monday, I also had the privilege to celebrate a very different group of lifesavers.

Did you know that we have about 1,500 children in the foster care system in Pierce County?  These are young people who have been removed from their families due to some sort of physical or emotional trauma.

Try to put yourself in the place of one of these children.  You know something is not right with your family, but it is all you know and you are powerless to do anything about it. Then you are suddenly removed from your home by law enforcement or Child Protective Services.  You are scared. You don’t know what is happening or why. You might be separated from your siblings and may end up moving to several different homes within just a few days.

In some cases, our system of rescuing a child from a violent or unsafe home life can inflict even more trauma on a child.

What’s even more shocking is that children in our county are twice as likely to find themselves in foster care than are children from King County.

That’s why organizations like Amara, a nonprofit organization that cares for youngsters in foster care, is so critically important in the lives of our children.

Amara recently purchased a 29-acre property in Pierce County and our community has the opportunity to use this land to improve foster care services for kids and their families.  This has the potential to change how we deal with foster care in our community.  It may include better services and supports for families before they split up, family visitation, and better support for foster parents and foster children.  Can you imagine how much a beautiful, safe place would help traumatized children heal and thrive?

This week we officially kicked off the 2019 Pierce County Community Engagement process to dream about how we can use the property Amara purchased. I was honored to participate with Mayor Victoria Woodards on the program as we joined with folks from across the County who are investing their time and talent into this project. We hope that by the end of 2019 we will have a vision and action plan to share with the community.

Dr. Ben Danielson, Odessa Brown Medical Center; Secretary Ross Hunter, DCYF; Erin Jones; Fahren Johnson, Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Amara’s Pierce County Advisory Council; Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards; me; Maureen Sorenson, Amara’s Pierce County Director


Thanks for reading,