As long as he lives, Dale Clingan will never forget Feb. 19, 2005. It was the worst day of his life.
That’s when his son, Paramedic Christopher Clingan, and two fellow EMS providers, were killed when their ambulance was hit by a train at a rural Arkansas crossing.
The stroke patient they were transporting survived the horrific crash.
Christopher Clingan and crew members Jeffrey Scott Ferrand, and John Jeffrey “Jay” Rook, were honored this past weekend at the National EMS Memorial Service in Roanoke, Va. Gold leaves bearing their names will be placed on the Tree of Life.
Clingan’s parents, like others from around the country, received a medal, an American flag and a white rose in honor of their loved one’s sacrifice. They were saluted by uniformed EMS personnel, and shared hugs and tears with strangers suffering as they were.
“Another six inches, and the train would not have hit the ambulance. That’s how close it was,” Clingan said as he glanced at the medal hanging from his neck on red, white and blue ribbon.
“Chris and Jay were thrown out the back door as the ambulance spun around. The woman on the cot, who was strapped on, stayed inside. She’s OK today,” Clingan said, adding the driver also was ejected.
The resident of Texarkana, Texas, said he isn’t one to sit back and stew. Instead, he’s pushing for changes.
“I want mandatory seatbelt use by people in ambulances. It’s the only way to protect you. They save lives. That’s the message I’ve been telling – buckle up.”
But, Clingan said he’s heard all kinds of excuses, including that the providers can’t always reach their patients if they’re buckled. “That’s why I think they should also be making changes in the back. They need to make the environment safer.”
Clingan said in addition to working for three EMS services, his son also helped at a clinic for indigents, read to school children and was a volunteer paramedic at Liberty Eylau Vol. Fire Co. “He was the best…”
Clingan touts his safety message whenever and wherever he can.
The president of the National Association of EMTs, Ken Bouvier, said he admires Clingan for his efforts. “He really is sincere that he wants to prevent others from suffering,” Bouvier said. He said he whole-heartedly supports seatbelt use in EMS, and that ambulances also need to slow down.