Story from an Advanced Life Support Paramedic

Born to Save Lives

Shawn Webb’s passion for saving lives started when he was just 17 years old. Now an for ER24, his 20 years of experience has given him a lifetime of stories to tell, although his modesty gives nothing away. 

ER24 paramedics received a call-out at 15h00 to assist with a suicide jumper threatening to leap from a six-storey building.“I arrived on scene to find the SAPS as well as a trauma councillor trying to coax the man off the roof,” recalls Shawn, “They had been trying for two-and-a-half hours. The man was in such a volatile emotional state and reluctant for anyone to come close to him, threatening to jump if they did. The police, the trauma councillor, his wife, a fellow colleague and friend had no choice but to keep their distance.” 

It was quickly established that the man was the father of two young children and a long-time employee of the factory housed within the building. He had been dealing with depression for a few weeks but had arrived at work that day like any other normal day. Fellow colleagues were alerted to the potential tragedy when they saw his legs dangling off the ledge through a window on the sixth floor.  He had desperately broken the lock of the maintenance exit of the building to find his way to the rooftop.

In June 2012 a near tragic incident put ER24 Paramedic, Shawn Webb's bravery and quick-thinking skills to the test.

“I climbed onto the roof but kept about a two-metre distance from him, just close enough that he could hear me,” says Shawn. “Knowing he had children, I asked him about them. Although he didn’t respond to my questions immediately, he eventually told me how old they were. That was all I got, but it was really all I needed to make damn sure this man did not jump! He was not very receptive following our brief interaction, but I noticed him reach for a cigarette from his now empty box. I took this as my golden opportunity to offer him one - rather unethical, but it worked! I lit it, passed it slowly over to him and he responded to my offer. I felt a quiet sense of relief at this small victory, but my razor sharp senses were still on high alert. He was now sitting on his haunches along the gutter of the roof, his back to me, while I lay flat on my stomach creeping closer up behind him. I knew that every centimetre closer to him was a centimetre toward saving him, but I had no idea what was going to happen next...”

“Gut instinct took over me when he turned to his wife and said: “Please don’t tell the kids what I am about to do...” and I reached out and grabbed him by his waistline, holding onto his belt to haul him in. Weighing a good 110 kilograms or thereabout, he certainly was not a small man. This coupled with raging aggression made it all the more challenging to hold onto him. He was punching and biting me, but luckily a policeman had the foresight to weigh me down by sitting on my legs, which literally kept me from going over too! It was so quick, but I managed to get him back to the rooftop and quickly drew a shot of sedative from my pocket and jabbed it through his clothes into his flesh to try and calm him. The rest of the team were on standby ready to strap him down and immobilize him before we drove to the hospital.”

“It only dawned on me how crazy the experience was when I got to the bottom and stood on that hard concrete floor looking up to where we were. How I managed to grab him from that distance that quickly, I still don’t know! It was pure instinct and really just another day on the job.”

Shawn received a phone call from his wife a few days later, thanking him for saving her husband’s life and informing him that he was seeking psychiatric treatment for his battle with depression. “The experience really taught me not to judge people and their circumstances. I’m just glad he was given a second chance at life and an opportunity to go home, see his kids again and get treatment.”

Shawn doesn’t see what he did that day as a heroic act, just part of the job he was born to do.