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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Difference Maker: ‘It’s the best job in the world’: Spokane firefighter uses diverse skill set, ‘compassionate heart’ to help others in crisis

Spokane firefighter paramedic Lindsey Pavlischak poses for a photo Dec. 23 at the Spokane Fire Department Training Center in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane firefighter paramedic Lindsey Pavlischak poses for a photo Dec. 23 at the Spokane Fire Department Training Center in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Lindsey Pavlischak was watching television with family Nov. 1 7 at her Perry District residence when her phone made an “awful sound” she had never heard before.

It turned out to be a CPR alert that showed the caller’s location was about two blocks from Pavlischak’s home.

Pavlischak, a Spokane Fire Department firefighter paramedic, was off duty but decided to hop off the couch in her sweatpants, throw on her boots and make the short drive to the emergency location. After banging on the door, a woman answered and led Pavlischak upstairs where she found a man on the ground with no pulse and not breathing. A family member was crying over the man’s chest, Pavlischak said.

Pavlischak immediately started chest compressions before American Medical Response medics and her fellow Fire Department colleagues arrived to assist. Pavlischak and the first responders worked on the patient for roughly 20 minutes, ultimately reviving the man before crews took him to the hospital. The man survived.

“It was pretty cool and it’s a hugely rewarding feeling when you have successful outcomes,” Pavlischak said.

Pavlischak, 35, joined the department in March 2021 with a diverse background in the health care field.

Pavlischak graduated from Central Valley High School and got her first taste as a first responder about 15 years ago when she became a Spokane County Fire District 9 volunteer EMT and firefighter.

Over the next decade, she pursued other fields in places like Seattle and Hawaii. Pavlischak served and tended bar, became a massage therapist, worked with teens struggling with mental health issues and worked at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake. She also got her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

But, Pavlischak said she always missed her time as an EMT firefighter.

“Nothing else I tried was as fulfilling and I didn’t have the same sense of pride in my work and not as much excitement,” she said.

Pavlischak returned to her first responder roots about five years ago. Since then, she worked as a medical technician at the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center emergency room, an EMT with Deer Park Volunteer Ambulance and as a paramedic with AMR.

“Once I got into Sacred Heart, I started to get that buzz again,” she said. “And I loved the crazy, chaotic busy days in there.”

She recalled some days of nearly continuous cardiac arrests and traumas where she was constantly running around. Bus she loved it.

When she started work at AMR, Pavlischak said she felt she was closer to her dream career. She said she loved being in the community and making a difference.

“I finally was just like, I need to get back into fire,” Pavlischak said. “I miss it all the time.”

So, she started testing and speaking with Spokane and Fire District 9 firefighters, who encouraged her to return to firefighting.

“The second I got here (Spokane Fire Department), I knew it, it clicked, it felt right,” Pavlischak said. “I was excited every day and, you know, I love going to work every day.”

Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer said the department tries to hire experienced firefighters, and Pavlischak fit the bill with her diverse experiences.

“She’s a future leader of the organization without a doubt,” Schaeffer said. “She’s service-minded. She’s got an empathetic and compassionate heart and she’s got a sort of drive that is really beyond any comparison. She’s an amazing human being.”

He said Pavlischak is resilient, another trait he looks for in recruits. Schaeffer said he tries to hire firefighters who protect and serve people when all odds are against them.

“She’s certainly demonstrated that throughout her timeline here so far,” Schaeffer said.

Pavlischak said her various health care jobs provided her a full understanding of the process – from responding to a patient to transporting them in an ambulance and treating them at the hospital.

“It kind of gives you a full picture and it helped give me a unique perspective on how I handle calls,” she said.

She said she likes the diversity of the calls in which she responds, including fires and medical calls and now – for a six-month stretch – mental health calls.

Pavlischak and Jordan Ellinwood, a mental health professional at Frontier Behavioral Health, respond to people experiencing behavioral health issues. The Spokane Fire Department has partnered with Frontier since 2018 to staff the Behavioral Response Unit.

Spokane firefighter paramedics, like Pavlischak, rotate through the unit every six months.

Pavlischak said she handles the medical aspect of the call while Ellinwood addresses the mental health part. The goal is to divert people to appropriate mental health facilities instead of funneling everyone into an emergency room, she said.

“Sometimes that’s not the most appropriate route for them to go, especially with how overwhelmed the ERs are right now,” Pavlischak said.

She said it’s been nice to see people receive the proper resources instead of adding them to an overflowing emergency room where they might sit for hours and see their symptoms potentially worsen because of the chaotic environment.

“It’s been really cool to see (Ellinwood) help people get out of that revolving door of the ER and actually get to facilities that can help,” Pavlischak said.

Pavlischak said she and Ellinwood respond to patients having suicidal or homicidal ideations, hallucinations, severe depression or substance use issues.

“Our goal is to try and meet those people wherever they are and bring the resources to them,” she said.

Ellinwood said she listens to each person’s needs and asks intimate questions to identify which resources they require. She said she refers people in crisis to places like Inland Northwest Behavioral Health, Spokane Regional Stabilization Center, Jewels Helping Hands and Frontier.

Pavlischak has been part of the unit for about three weeks. She said she’s learned more about the behavioral health programs in the region and hopes to bring the tools she learned from Ellinwood with her when she returns to her regular duties on her fire engine.

Pavlischak said her job as a firefighter paramedic is rewarding and comes with an adrenaline rush, such as the off-duty cardiac arrest call.

“Adrenaline is almost comforting,” said Pavlischak, adding the rush means she is ready and focused.

She said the November CPR call brought more adrenaline because it was unexpected and she was at home.

“It’s definitely a team effort for stuff like that,” Pavlischak said. “It’s the best job in the world. I get to work with people who are really good at what they do.”

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