DENVER – Two Denver paramedics were honored Tuesday, among several others, for their work in helping save a victim of human trafficking during a routine medical call.
Paramedic Laura Gehm and Paramedic Field Training Officer Julia Drahn received the Distinguished Service Cross for their intervention, which goes to paramedics “who performs an act of heroism involving a novel, unusual, or sudden situation of a serious and urgent nature that demands immediate action.”
They were two of more than a dozen people honored at the Denver Health Foundation’s 4th Annual Paramedics Awards Celebration to Honor Community Heroes Tuesday for their work in the community.
Gehm has been a paramedic with Denver Health since last September, while Drahn has been working as a paramedic for 12 years, they said.
On Jan. 6 – their first and only shift working together – they received a typical call to an apartment building they’ve been to before. A woman in her 20s was complaining about abdominal pain – but something seemed off.
“When I was trying to talk to her and figure out the story, just nothing seemed to make sense,” Gehm said. “And the answers that she was giving us were very one-worded.”
“The dynamic between her and the man on scene really kind of gave me – the hairs on the back of my neck stood up,” added Drahn.
There were too many red flags. The man was answering questions for her and did not want her to go with the paramedics to the hospital. And when they asked the woman was drugs she was taking, she said the man had been giving her a particular medication every day.
That’s where their specialty training about knowing the signs of human trafficking kicked in – training that is now routine for hundreds of Denver Health employees.
“I had somebody call me one time and say, ‘You’re in Denver, so obviously it happens there but it doesn’t happen in these other spots,’” said Michelle Metz, a forensic nurse examiner who conducts the training. “It’s like oh no, it happens everywhere.”
Metz says the training is not about judging victims, who often end up being trafficked through little fault of their own. She trains employees to gently ask the potential victims questions.
“Are you being taken advantage of? What did they expect from you? What are you doing? Where do you live? Who do you live with?” Metz explained. “Those questions.”
And like Gehm and Drahn experienced, the answers don’t always come so easily. The first responders also don’t always know the outcome, but with their training, know they are keeping watchful eyes that could save a life.
“I think it’s awesome that this is being recognized and that she has gotten the care she deserves,” Gehm said of both receiving the award and of the woman whom they helped that day.
“Everyone thinks EMS is guts and glory and driving fast,” said Drahn, “but a huge part of it is social work and compassion for patients.”