On Saturday, June 16, McLean was honored by the Monroe County chapter of the American Red Cross as an Emergency Response Hero during the second annual Red Cross Festival in Rochester.
Huddled under a blanket, helping a man with his arm pinned in a garbage truck compactor stay on his feet, sparks flying as crews cut their way through layers of metal and being doused with water in cold February temperatures, Ray McLean didn’t think he was doing anything extraordinary.
“I feel like what I did wasn’t worthy of the award,” he said. “Ask a thousand other paramedics and they’d say the same thing: ‘I was just in the right place at the right time.’”
On Saturday, June 16, McLean was honored by the Monroe County chapter of the American Red Cross as an Emergency Response Hero during the second annual Red Cross Festival in Rochester. The heroes awards ceremony “honors those among us who have acted selflessly for the safety and protection of others.” Those selected to receive this honor are nominated by community members who know someone who they believe has “gone above and beyond,” said Erin Caldwell, assistant director, regional marketing & communications with the Red Cross.
Finding his career path
McLean, a Macedon resident, has been working in the emergency medical services field for 20 years, but it’s been “a hard career path.”
Growing up in Mount Morris, he joined the military right out of high school and served through the first Gulf War. Deployment was difficult, and his work in the military hardly prepared him for what would become his career in life.
“I was a cook,” he laughed. “I have no regrets at all.”
When he came home, he worked with his dad in construction, but he was always urged to get out and do something with his life. His dad had done well in construction, but it had taken a toll on his body. Looking for something more stable, McLean landed a job cleaning ambulances. He had no idea this would be the start of his career in the medical field.
The more he was around the EMS personnel between his day job and his volunteer duties as a firefighter with the Mount Morris Fire Department, the more intrigued he was by their work. Soon he began training to become a paramedic. As his training progressed, McLean realized he liked it — a lot.
Raised with a strong work ethic, Ray put his all into the challenges to become a paramedic and get his emergency medicine degree. He soon was working for Mercy Flight, but he wasn’t quite done. He decided he wanted more, and pursued a degree in nursing. When his current job opened up to work in the trauma nurse program at Strong Memorial Hospital, he took it.
Today, McLean saod he loves his work, and continues to work per diem for Mercy Flight and Irondequoit Ambulance.
“I still like to fly,” he said. “I don’t want to give that up.”
In his spare time, McLean volunteers in the community. Over the years he has helped coach baseball in Penfield, where his children attend school, works with Rochester Honor Flight — which flies veterans to the World War II Memorial in Washington — volunteered as a firefighter in East Rochester, helped with the Boy Scouts in Macedon and coached with the Gananda football team.
That fateful day
On that cold February day in 2010, McLean was working for Mercy Flight. The call came in as a guy stuck in a trash compactor in Farmington, he recalled.
“I remember thinking it must be a small household compactor,” Ray said.
But when he and his partner arrived on scene, there was a giant, older model garbage truck with a man standing on a platform some 10 feet in the air. The man’s partner had hit the compressor lever not realizing the man wasn’t safely out of harm’s way. The man’s arm was trapped up to his shoulder in about a 2-inch space, McLean said.
“He wasn’t going anywhere,” he added.
The fire department was already on scene, setting up equipment as McLean and his partner went to work. McLean joined the frightened man on the platform, assuring him over and over that everything would be OK. A surgical team was called in just in case they needed to amputate the arm, but, McLean said, they soon realized that wouldn’t be an option. They were going to have to peel back the metal of the truck to slide the man’s arm out. Giving the man medication to ease the pain, McLean said, it soon became necessary for him to hold the man upright until his arm could be freed. A blanket was thrown over the pair as crews went to work cutting away the metal, McLean recalled.
One obstacle after another seemed to present itself to rescue crews that day, McLean said, but as a team they worked through it. The heat from cutting away the metal was burning the man’s trapped arm and sparks were flying everywhere, he recalled. The only remedy was to douse the pair with water, despite the freezing temperatures.
It was three hours before crews safely released the man’s arm, Ray said.
The arm was in bad shape, he recalled, and he wasn’t at all certain the victim would be able to keep it. He was taken by Mercy Flight to Strong. It was during a regular follow up that Ray learned the man’s arm had been saved.
“It makes you feel good,” he said of the news. “It’s calls like this that makes it very rewarding. I will probably be doing this until I can’t walk anymore.”
Ray is humbled by the award nomination, but he believes he is just lucky to have been the one nominated.
“I’m truly honored, but everybody deserves it,” he said. “It wasn’t just me out there, the fire department was there, there was the dispatcher, my partner, the pilot, the surgical team. I think I’m just fortunate. I’m grateful to have been selected, but the reality is the EMS community as a whole should be thanked on a regular basis.”