Sept. 25, 2021 — “Volunteerism sometimes is just in your soul. And I think helping others was definitely in Sarah’s soul. She had plans,” said Fire and EMS Chief Michael Schick about Sarah Susman, a part-time Western Lane Ambulance District employee who died Monday morning in a car accident on Highway 126.
Susman was 25 and an EMT basic at Western Lane while being a volunteer firefighter/EMT at Lowell Rural Fire Protection District (RFPD).
She was born and raised in Portland before moving to Eugene to attend the University of Oregon. There, she graduated with a degree in biology and pre-med.
“Sarah started in March of this year as a part time employee with us,” Schick said. “She was well known with the crews already.”
Susman also previously worked at Mid-Valley Ambulance in Springfield.
“She's really been very active in the emergency response setting for several years now,” Schick said.
Susman was certified as an EMT intermediate program through Lane Community College.
“We had several firefighters who went through the program with her, so they worked really closely with her,” he said.
Many of the instructors in the course were Western Lane Ambulance paramedics.
“This program has been great for us to have the instructors over there so we can offer positions to the best and brightest,” Schick said. “Sarah certainly filled that role. Our instructors knew her really well and, as soon as she completed her certification, she was hired as a partner with us.”
According to Lowell RFPD, Susman became a firefighter in 2018, joining to gain experience in emergency medicine.
“I think her plans were to go to med school at some point in the future,” Schick said. “Part of her being was that she really wanted to help people. … It's something that was very important to her.”
In a time when volunteer numbers are dwindling, Susman was an example of someone who went out of her way to help others.
“Those are the type of people you look for — ones that have a passion for it and are committed to it, and are willing to take those extra steps to help out your agency,” Schick said.
The news of Susman’s death has affected crews at both Western Lane Ambulance and Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue, since the two emergency response agencies work so closely together.
“It's been extremely difficult. She touched a lot of lives. Even though it's only been about six months as an employee, she was well known, worked well with the crews. They all really liked her,” Schick said.
On Monday morning, Western Lane first realized something was wrong when Susman did not arrive in time for work. She commuted from Springfield.
Oregon State Police’s preliminary investigation revealed a Kenworth log truck, operated by Shane McVay, was eastbound when the loaded trailer tipped over. The trailer struck a westbound Toyota Prius, operated by Susman, and a Dodge Ram towing a boat, operated by Randall Tokich. The Dodge Ram then struck an eastbound Ford Mustang, operated by Jordyn Tippett.
Susman sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced deceased. McVay, Tippett and Tokich had injuries.
A fellow Western Lane paramedic also drove the route and came across the highway closure after the four-vehicle crash occurred on Highway 126 near milepost 37.
“He was stopped with traffic and went up to see if there's anything he could do to help. And he didn't know Sarah was there, but he saw the car that was involved,” Schick said.
Once he was through the accident area, he notified Western Lane, who reached out to state police for information.
Western Lane and Siuslaw Valley posted some of the first reports that Susman had been the fatality in the accident.
The “Western Lane Ambulance Paramedics/EMTs Local 851” posted about her life, showing photos and talking about her plans for the future.
“(Sarah) was incredibly intelligent with a pure, happy and compassionate heart. Our family and community had lost a beautiful young star. Our hearts are broken and our profound condolences for all of her family and friends,” the post stated. “Live and treat others like tomorrow isn’t promised. Like Sarah, dream big and continue to work at making a difference.”
Both Western Lane and Siuslaw Valley were able to provide counseling to crews through the medical crisis response team.
“We reached out to all our employees to get them to talk about things. And we have a lot of resources available,” Schick said. “We see so many things like this in our regular their duties. It’s important that we talk about it and get our feelings out, and then address those early and often to help the crews. But they're all professionals, and I'm very proud of them. But it's him home when we lose a member of our family.”
While a memorial service has yet to be announced, the City of Lowell and the Lowell RFPD will be hosting a "Bells Across America" and a "Sounds of the Sirens" on Sunday, Oct. 3, at 11 a.m. at the fire department, 389 N. Pioneer St. in Lowell. This is to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty, as well as Susman.
Lowell RFPD Fire Chief Lon Dragt released a proclamation, saying, “Toll a bell, pause for a moment of silence, or read a special passage to honor the sacrifices of these public servants and their families. I encourage our citizens to honor fire and emergency personnel, past and present, who, by their faithful and loyal devotion to duties, have rendered invaluable service to our community and its citizens.”