Editorial note: For non-medics, EMT-P is the official designation of a paramedic.
When you think of the greatest partnerships of all time, some of these may come to mind…. Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Lennon and McCartney, Rogers and Hammerstein, Sears and Roebuck, Cravens and King. Well okay, Dave King and Jim Cravens may not be household names elsewhere but they sure are in our community, where they are practically legends. What follows is their story or, at least, a part of it. This is just an article. The whole story would require a book. A long book. Think of this as the “Cliff Notes” version.
Let’s begin with how Jim and Dave ended up our area in the first place. In the Mid-70s, Geophysicist Jim Cravens was transferred from Lafayette, Louisiana to Houston by Conoco. The Corsicana, Texas native had lived in Houston once before when he attended the University of Houston, where he also played football.
Now, he was returning with his wife, JoAnne, and their 5 children. Jim had served his community in Lafayette as a reserve deputy sheriff. He also wanted to serve here, but how?
JoAnne provided the answer. She’d seen the Cypress Creek EMS station (an old, used trailer) across from the Northwest Medical Center Emergency Room and had signed him up. After all, their house was within half a mile. He’d learned advanced first aid in the Army and he had more medical training at Conoco, because his team frequently worked out in the middle of nowhere.
Jim says the medic seed may even have been planted as early as grade school. A girl in his class was prone to seizures. Whenever it happened his teacher called on him (the biggest kid in the class) to carry her to the school nurse’s office. No matter how he became a medic, though, Jim became a volunteer in August of 1976. At that time, the Harris County Emergency Corps was staffing the day shift and volunteers covered overnight.
A year or so after Jim moved his family to Spring, a new job with better pay lured Dave King from his home state of North Carolina to our area. He and his wife, Betty, had four children. He too had been a reserve deputy and was looking for a way to serve. He also thought it would be a good way to make friends in an area where he and his wife had no family and no friends. But, what would that service be?
One day, a trip to Allied Bank in Spring provided the answer. Dave struck up a conversation with a deputy working a second job there. The officer told King about a relatively new ambulance service that was looking for volunteers. King had been a Navy medic during the Korean Conflict and his current job involved selling medical supplies. It sounded like a good match. Dave King was in.
It was now 1977. The partnership with HCEC had ended, but the partnership between Cravens and King was just beginning. CCEMS was now on its own with the day shift staffed, in part, by stay-at-home-moms whose kids were in school. The night shift was covered by the volunteers who had day jobs like Jim and Dave.
The two men first met during EMT training. After they worked a few shifts together they both decided it was a good partnership and worked together as often as possible. Dave King says, “We worked together so much that Jim could stick his hand out and I’d put what he needed in it and it was the same when I put my hand out. We each knew what the other one was thinking and it was just smooth. But then, you’d get somebody else and it’s kind of like a football team changing quarterbacks. You lose that finesse.”
They knew what the other was thinking when they were called out one night to a birth in progress. Another medic was on the scene. They helped him with the delivery but Jim says, “When he asked aren’t you going to cut the cord? We told him go ahead, it’s yours.” What they knew and that medic didn’t is that the person who cuts the cord had to go into Houston to sign the birth certificate.
It wasn’t long before their partnership became friendship. They started hanging out together outside of work. They went hunting together. Plus, their wives hit it off and became the best of friends. Holidays and birthdays were celebrated together.
Both men became volunteers very close to the beginning of Cypress Creek EMS. The organization had been formed in 1975 by citizens concerned about the lack of reliable ambulance service in the growing neighborhoods around FM 1960. The main impetus behind CCEMS was a man in the Cypresswood subdivision who died of a heart attack waiting for an ambulance. After that, some of his neighbors took action which resulted in the formation of CCEMS. (See more on the 40 year history of CCEMS here.)
In those days your emergency choices were an ambulance out of Houston that could take an hour or more to arrive, if at all, or a private ambulance company. At that time the private services were unreliable and provided no medical care. They were for-profit “scoop and run” operations and they did not like the fact that a volunteer, non-profit EMS service was cutting in on their ambulance dance. Dirty tricks were common. Cypress Creek vehicles were sabotaged with sugar in the gas tank. The private services rushed to grab and load patients without regard to whether such action might do harm to a patient. (For instance, one with unknown spinal injuries.)
One night, they responded to a Deputy Sheriff who had been injured. Jim says, “He’d been in a wreck and they called us and that’s when we had some of those private services trying to jump our calls.” Dave King says a private ambulance crew tried to pick him up and, “He (the deputy) pulled his gun on them and said if you touch me, I’ll shoot you. I’m waiting on Cypress Creek.”
King and Cravens both love Cypress Creek EMS, partly because they helped get it off to a good start, partly because of the sense of family at “the creek,” and partly because they wanted their own families, friends and neighbors to have the best possible prehospital emergency care in case of an injury or illness.
Later on, while still volunteering as medics, King and Cravens would also be asked to become members of the Board of Directors. They are still giving their time and expertise to the CCEMS Board, but they are no longer medics. King worked his last ambulance shift in February of 2007 and Cravens pulled his last shift in May of 2010.
Along the way they trained their fair share of young medics who still work for Cypress Creek, who have, in turn, served as mentors for other incoming medics and so on. Medics who were brought along by King and Cravens include Information Technology Manager Toivo Sari and Human Resources Manager Jim Van Hooser.
“If I had been working anywhere else with anyone else, I might have not have lasted long”, said Jim Van Hooser. He says,” They put up with my mistakes and allowed me to learn. They taught me well and gave me room to grow. If not for them, I probably wouldn’t still be here. Because of them, I found a lifelong career.”
As Dave King approached his mid-70s he told Van Hooser that he would not have to tell him when to come off the ambulance. He promised to save Van Hooser from that task by quitting when he felt it was time. That time came one day at a call on the third floor on an apartment building. After running up all those stairs carrying equipment he felt unusually winded and tired. He decided that would be his last shift and he informed Van Hooser.
Looking back the two friends have a wealth of great stories to tell, like the night they were in the old station on Cali Drive near the hospital and got an emergency call on Hafer Road. Dave King says, “It must have woke me up in my R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle, because if you awaken in your R.E.M. cycle you are as addled as a goat. I got in the ambulance, I turned the switch on, I cranked it up, I turned the lights on and I looked over at Jim and I said where is Hafer road?” In his sleepy state, Dave had forgotten that Cali Drive turns into Hafer Road so Jim replied, “Oh, about ten feet out there.” (As he pointed in the direction of Hafer) That year a special employee recognition was presented ….”The Lost Ambulance Award.”
Between the two of them, Jim and Dave have helped thousands of patients, saved a lot of lives and delivered about a dozen babies. Jim has a picture of the first one on his desk. It was sent to them both with a thank you note from the mother.
The baby was born on March 4th, 1980 and her name was Jessica Rae Frisbee. This was before HIPAA, so I can get away with this. Anyway, I did an internet search to try and locate her for this article, but unfortunately I did not find her.
She may not even know of their involvement in her birth, but Jim and Dave remember it well. Even though they did not become volunteers for personal reward, saving lives and bringing new ones into the world is just that.