SPRING HILL — Since their lifesaving actions at the scene of a Jan. 21 car wreck, Jeff Palmer and Thomas Ratcliffe, both paramedics at Oak Hill Hospital, have heard the word "hero" a lot. And they can't quite understand why.
"This is just our job," said Palmer, 44, a registered nurse and firefighter paramedic in the Oak Hill Emergency Care Center. "This is our entire career."
The New Port Richey resident was, in fact, driving to work early that morning when he saw a three-car crash that had happened just outside the hospital on Cortez Boulevard. While two of the cars were pulled safely off to the side of the road, a third was broken down in an intersection. Seeing that its driver was injured, Palmer jumped out of his car and ran to the scene, focusing all of his attention on the patient in need.
Minutes later, Ratcliffe, 27, arrived and offered his help. As he walked toward the intersection, he saw a truck driving straight toward the scene, in the direction of his friend and colleague.
"I screamed out, 'Jeff, watch out!' " Ratcliffe recalled.
The next few seconds passed in a haze for Palmer, who remembers seeing the stunned look on the truck driver's face as he tried to swerve. Palmer jumped out of the vehicle's path, sustaining only a minor nick on his posterior. Things could have been far worse, he said.
"Thomas saved my life that day," Palmer said. "If it hadn't been for him, I would have left behind a wife and four daughters. I never would have seen them again."
The truck did hit the car in the intersection, also colliding with another car before flipping onto its side.
At some point, Ratcliffe also sustained an injury, getting glass in his eye. Even so, both paramedics continued to tend to the people who had been involved in the wrecks. Soon, additional medical personnel and vehicles arrived to help.
"It was by God's grace that we were both still alive," said Ratcliffe, a Brooksville husband and father of a 1-year-old son, with a second child expected in October.
No one died that day, and now both paramedics have been recognized for their actions, having been named Oak Hill's associates of the month.
"Jeff and Tom may be hesitant to use the word 'heroic,' " said Katie Nelson, marketing coordinator for the hospital, "but they showed no hesitation in helping the people who needed them. In our eyes, they are very heroic."
Palmer and Ratcliffe both smiled modestly and said a soft "thank you" when told that they were heroes.
"In our line of work, you never know for sure if you're going to be coming home that evening," Palmer said. "If you see that there's a need, you stop to help."