Sunday, January 21, 2018
News Roundup

Plant City EMS chief doubles as CSI consultant

PLANT CITY

An accident caused Jim Wilson to become a paramedic, and another twist years later led him into a completely different gig: consulting for the CBS drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. • Wilson, 51, is chief of the Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services division, but in his spare time he answers questions from a CSI researcher to bring realism to story lines. • Wilson doesn't get paid for his advice, but he gets a kick out of watching it play out on TV. • "Seeing how those creative people in Hollywood take a vague idea and turn it into something entertaining, it's incredible," he said. "How many people can say they're involved in something like this?"

Wilson's quirky hobby is a long way from 32 years ago when more pressing matters weighed on him. Back then he wondered whether he'd ever walk again.

The accident happened about 7 p.m., a couple of months after he graduated from Cocoa Beach High School in Brevard County.

Wilson and two friends were on State Road A1A heading to a softball game when another car blew through the intersection at St. Lucie Boulevard. The next few moments went by in a blur: headlights, the loud crush of metal, firefighters pulling him out of the driver's seat and excruciating pain in his right knee.

Two surgeries and eight months later, Wilson was still suffering and had trouble putting weight on the leg. His dreams of becoming a radiologist slipping away, he wondered whether he'd ever muster the stamina to attend school.

Then he sat down with a Brevard College counselor who suggested a one-semester emergency medical technician course to get him into the routine of classes and studying.

A few weeks later, Wilson was hooked. He was a trainee on an ambulance squad when he helped revive a man who suffered a heart attack.

"I remember the rush, the feeling of being part of something bigger than me," he said. "For the first time since that accident, I felt I had a purpose."

• • •

Eventually his leg healed and he went on to attain his paramedic certification and work at several fire departments. He got married and had a daughter, Amanda, who's in college. Five years ago, he landed in Plant City.

Shortly after that, his life would take another turn. Wilson had registered to give emergency medical advice on the website allexperts.com. About two years ago, CBS sent him a message: Would you like to talk about working with a television program?

Wilson was skeptical, but with his wife, Amy, listening in he called the number and reached Jon Wellner, an actor and researcher on CSI.

As they spoke, Wellner sought his advice on a plot turn the writers were considering: How can a paramedic using an EKG mistake someone for being dead. The EKG must give a flat-line reading, Wellner said.

Wilson didn't need long to answer. He faced that problem as a young EMT. He told Wellner the EKG's electrodes must be moist to operate properly. Even a tiny tear in the foil packaging can dry them out and make them useless.

"I learned that the hard way," he said.

That explanation satisfied Wellner, and since then, the two have collaborated about 12 times on CSI and once on another drama, TNT's Rizzoli & Isles.

"Anything having to do with EMS or fire-rescue, odds are I had something to do with it," Wilson said.

• • •

Wellner and fellow actor David Berman have made a business out of finding experts for TV writers, literally.

Four years ago they founded Entertainment Research Consultants. In addition to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the two have consulted on CSI: Miami, Bones, Mob Doctor, Rizzoli & Isles and Drop Dead Diva, among other shows, and have about 300 experts on hand offering advice on topics from accident reconstruction to zoology.

Wellner considers Wilson among his top consultants. He likens him to a teacher.

"His years of experience shows. He's never let us down," Wellner said.

Wellner said he looks for experts who offer clear, simple explanations about why something works or doesn't work.

"The best consultants know that we can't simply take 'no' as an answer," he said in an email to the Times. "We need more of a 'theoretically it's possible to do this,' or 'No, but you could do this instead.'

"It's understood that our shows don't spend too much time on any one subject, so we don't need pages of explanation," he added. "But any consultant that is willing to take time out of their real day to help our fake shows is always greatly appreciated."

Wilson said he and Wellner communicate through email and phone calls every two or three weeks.

Among Wilson's favorite episodes was one involving a kidnapped paramedic. Wellner asked whether Wilson knew of a drug that can both immobilize a person and trigger memory loss.

Wilson suggested midazolam (street name "dazzle"), which erases memory an hour before and an hour after being administered. Wilson then asked if the writers could include a line by the paramedic as he's getting drugged: "Aren't you going to tuck me in?"

The line made it onto the show. Wilson and his wife shared a big laugh.

For another episode, Wellner asked what equipment EMTs might use to flee a robbery.

Wilson suggested a device in ambulances that controls traffic signals. Again, the idea made it onto the show. Once the EMTs got through the signal, they flipped the light red, stopping traffic behind them.

Wilson isn't sure where his hobby will take him. For now, he's enjoying the ride.

"Everything happens for a reason. I don't know what that is right now. But I can tell you this much, it's been fun," he said.

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.

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