ALAMOSA — From South Korea to New York to Afghanistan to Alamosa – Francis Song has seen more and done more than most.
His experiences and curiosity led him to the world of the emergency responder where quick action and competence may often save a life. He has immersed himself in his studies at Trinidad State and his plans for continued learning stretch far into the future. Simultaneously he serves as emergency manager for Alamosa County.
When his parents immigrated to New York from South Korea, Francis Song was only 1 year old.
He was in high school, only three blocks from the World Trade Center when the 9/11 attacks happened. “I distinctly remember that as we exited the school, all these people were coming into the school to use our bathrooms and they were covered in white,” said Song. “I didn’t understand what was going on and I learned later those were people caught in the rubble. It was a truly frightening experience. All transportation had been shut down. I remember going to a pay phone and calling my parents. My mom, imagining the worst, was sobbing uncontrollably. My dad had to take the phone from her and then give me directions to walk the long way home from Manhattan to Queens where we lived. I remember crossing the Queensboro Bridge with a classmate, who also lived in Queens, and looking back to see this large plume of smoke fill the sky.”
“Because we were attacked from the sky on 9/11, I definitely made it a point to join the Air Force,” Song said. “In 2012 I was deployed to Afghanistan. I was in the skies over Afghanistan on 9/11, 11 years after the fact. It was a truly sombering moment to see everything come full circle.”
Song spent over four years in the Air Force as an airborne controller directing combat aircraft over Afghanistan from an E3 AWACS (Airborne Warning Control System) plane. With a big black egg-shaped radar dish positioned above the plane, it is easily identifiable.
While in the service he earned a master’s degree in space education thinking that someday he might teach mathematics or science.
After Song finished his tour of duty and was discharged from the Air Force in May of 2014, he felt a void which he thought volunteer work could fill. Two specific earlier events, in addition to 9/11, would draw him toward emergency services.
“When I was about 10 years old, the apartment below us caught on fire,” Song explained. “I was coming back from ‘after school’ and saw all these fire and EMS crews in front of my apartment. It was a very intimidating experience. I remember seeing my grandmother being pulled out of the apartment and all these fire fighters and EMTs surrounding her. They helped without asking if we spoke any English or if we could pay for any of this. It was truly remarkable to see people that didn’t know us at all risking their lives to help my grandmother.”
“Several years later, my younger brother and I were headed to a Cub Scout meeting,” Song said. “In his excitement, my brother hurriedly crossed the street without looking both ways and got hit by a car. Once again without asking if we spoke any English or if we could pay for any of this, EMS crews were there for us. This has stuck with me as a reminder that certain people do this job without ever wanting anything in return except to be able to help other people.”
Song had decided he wanted to be a veteran’s advocate. He believed he could find that opportunity through AmeriCorps, a public service organization. He created an on-line account making his profile searchable. Someone from La Puente (the homeless shelter in Alamosa) saw his profile, contacted him, and asked if he would be interested in applying for their one-year veterans’ advocacy position.
“I was from the metropolitan northeast and had an opportunity to work in the rural southwest. I had never been to Colorado,” said Song.
The idea appealed to him and he thought, “Why not?” For one year Song worked with La Puente as a veteran’s advocate.
After he completed that year, he was appointed emergency manager for Alamosa County. To better understand the world of public safety, Song volunteered as a victim advocate for the Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office and joined Alamosa Search and Rescue.
With offices located in the same Alamosa county building and with both Song and Jon Montano doing emergency work, their paths crossed often. Montano is the RETAC (Regional Emergency Trauma Advisory Committee) coordinator as well as the president of the HAZMAT (hazardous materials) board. He also teaches EMT classes at Trinidad State as does Jim Felmlee. Felmlee is both the Assistant Fire Chief in Center and the ambulance director.
As long term EMTs, they have plenty of stories to tell. “Every single time Jon or Jim would talk about what happened on a call, I would always be curious,” Song said. “To not be able to relate to their (EMT) stories, it was killing me. I wanted to understand a heart rhythm or recognize vitals that are outside normal limits.”
In order to learn what first responders (first personnel to arrive and assist at an emergency) do, he decided to take them up on their invitation and enroll in the EMS program at Trinidad State. “Since I became a certified EMT in January, I’m now developing my own stories that I can share with my fellow EMTs,” said Song.
Each year a Rookie Emergency Manager award is presented by the Colorado Emergency Management Association to a new manager who has worked no longer than two years in this position and has done an exceptional job. This statewide award was presented to Song in recognition of his work as Alamosa County’s emergency manager. He was genuinely shocked and deeply honored to receive this award in front of the best of the best.
“I want to let my works speak for themselves. I feel like I am most useful when I am helping people through difficult times,” he said.
Song serves on four ambulance crews: Baca Crestone Fire and EMS, Center Fire Protection and both Conejos and Costilla County ambulances and is the newest technician in the SLV HAZMAT (hazardous materials) organization.
“I guess I would be called a ‘nerd.’ I like to study,” he said. “When I was a kid my parents always instilled a sense of academic pursuit in me. I remember asking them if I could go out and hang out with my friends. My parents would say, ‘Get a 100 on your next test and you can go.’ They wanted me to have opportunities they could never have dreamed of having in Korea.”
“He’s a sponge,” said Montano. “Whatever knowledge is out there, he’s after it! If there’s anything he wants to do, I will help him do that. Anyone with that much enthusiasm, you don’t want to stifle. If he doesn’t make me proud, he’s going to be in trouble then!”
“In this day and age, it’s refreshing to see his enthusiasm,” added Felmlee. “He made the classes fun.”
Song, who is a huge Star Wars fan, said, “Sometimes I think I’m like Luke Skywalker in real life. I have my instructors and paramedics here and they’re my Jedi Masters!”
Angie Medina, who is a nursing instructor at Trinidad State, taught Song EKG Interpretation this spring. She said, “He was eager to learn more and went above and beyond. When class was over, he sent me a note that said, ‘I’m going to be the best damn EMT I can be.’”
“When it comes to public safety, I’m really interested,” said Song. “Knowledge is power and information is how you save someone’s life. I’m always trying to learn and study and pass that on. When we show up to someone’s place with lights flashing, we’re not asking if they can speak English or if they can pay for this. All we’re doing is trying to render the best patient care possible.”
Song is registered for the EMT Intermediate classes at Trinidad State this fall. He has also applied to Pueblo Community College for Paramedics School. His long-term goal is to be a paramedic.
“Currently I’m an EMT basic and I Just earned my IV certification through the state. The next rung up that ladder would be an ALS (Advanced Life Support) provider.” Both Intermediate EMTs and paramedics provide ALS.
His ultimate goal is to become a HAZMAT Specialist - Firefighter / Paramedic.
Caption: The class skeleton and Francis Song pose for a picture.