Being an Emergency Responder in Bethesda

Being an Emergency Responder in Bethesda

Chevy Chase's Padraic Hughes on what it's like to volunteer for BCCRS

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Photo by Michael Ventura

When you’re a first responder, it can feel like you’re always on duty. Padraic Hughes, a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) with the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad (BCCRS), has been asked to treat his neighbor’s snakebite, received a call from a friend whose kitchen was on fire and handled minor health emergencies at his day job overseeing visual communications for the International Monetary Fund in D.C.

Hughes, who grew up in Chevy Chase and lives there now, still remembers a BCCRS member helping him earn a first-aid merit badge when he was a Boy Scout. His interest in the outdoors and desire to help others led Hughes to volunteer in wilderness search and rescue, which he’s been doing for more than 30 years, mainly at Virginia’s Shenandoah Mountain. He typically works a 12-hour overnight shift at BCCRS on Thursdays, driving the rescue vehicle and supervising the other two or three crew members on board.

Hughes, 54, has responded to hundreds of calls in his seven years as an EMT—involving everything from chest pains and allergic reactions to fires and car crashes. The father of two says he tries to make a personal connection with all of his patients, letting them know that he’s there for them. “I don’t think anybody ever forgets the time they called an ambulance,” Hughes says. “This is a huge event in their life, and they need to have somebody.” Sometimes Hughes hears from patients afterward, or checks on how they’re doing. He’s been recognized at the grocery store and thanked by a person he helped.

With all the emergencies he’s seen, Hughes can’t help but worry about his own family. He’s always insisted that they practice their home fire escape plan, and has never let his sons—now 17 and 19—ride bikes without helmets. “Some of the worst traumas I’ve seen in Maryland are bicycle accidents,” he says. “My kids hate me—I’m ‘Safety Dad.’”

In his own words…

Lasting impressions

“As EMTs, we tend to remember two types of incidents. Ones where you wish you could have done better—it may not be that you weren’t skilled, the incident just didn’t allow you to—and then those that were really intense, where you performed and it went well.”

On making a difference

“My wife asks me all the time: ‘Why do you go and do this at your age, all night?’ There’s nothing that makes me feel better than having that interaction with the person and knowing that I’m making them feel better. It’s so immediate. You’re calming them down and you’re hopefully saving their life or easing their pain. That type of emotional fulfillment is just huge.”

Learning curve

“I tell the young folks, once you’ve had your first shooting, your first stabbing, your first code, and you’ve done it, you’re good. And maybe you could have been more efficient—that comes with practice. Luckily, I’ve never done something that was the wrong intervention that hurt someone. I’d be crushed by that. The big thing is you learn little things, like how to do things quicker.”

Better safe than sorry

“One of the things that I’ve often been amazed at when I get on scene is how long people wait to call. I understand if you’ve got a stomachache. Fine. But if you get a sudden onset of any type of pain, that means something’s going on.”

Distracted driving

“I ran one call a couple weeks ago up here on Old Georgetown Road. She ruined her car, she had her two little kids with her—they were OK. Four cars were involved and it was because she reached down and was trying to text. The texting thing is just crazy.”

Proceeding with caution

“You won’t see me going over the speed limit unless I know I’m going to a critical patient. I usually put on the headlights and sirens but stop at the lights—roll through them when everyone’s stopped. It’s crazy how people react to emergency vehicles. I wonder if some people think we’re just doing lights and sirens to do it. I’ve had so many calls where I realize that if I hadn’t been just takin’ it easy, I would have had a bad accident. People just go right in front of me.”

Associate Editor Kathleen Seiler Neary can be reached at


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