In his seven years with the Gainesville Fire Department, firefighter and emergency medical technician Jonathan Sosebee went through the drills on how to treat a choking victim countless times. That training paid off last year.
Sosebee, 28, responded with other firefighters to a local restaurant where an older man was out on the floor, face blue and unconscious. He was not breathing or talking, the tell-tale signs of a choking victim.
Sosebee straddled the man and thrust his hands repeatedly into the man’s midsection.
After several thrusts and what seemed like a long time, the piece of food that blocked the man’s airway came loose and he started breathing again. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital and later treated and released.
For Sosebee, it was the first time he had tried abdominal thrusts — a variation of the Heimlich maneuver — on a real choking victim.
Sosebee was quick to deflect credit to his fellow firefighters and EMTs on the scene that day.
“Everybody helped,” he said. “It’s not just about me.”
For his lifesaving efforts, Sosebee was named the Public Safety Officer of the Year by the Gainesville Lodge of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. It was the first time a Gainesville fire employee has received the award since 1999.
“It was an honor to receive it,” said Sosebee, a Gainesville native and 2001 graduate of Gainesville High School.
Said Gainesville Fire Chief Jon Canada, “I’m proud of him. He represents our department well.”
This year’s other finalists for the award were Gainesville Police Department Cpl. Moises Vargas and Hall County Sheriff’s Crime Scene Investigator Cameron Durham.
Vargas serves as a domestic violence officer and Durham is the sheriff’s sole full-time crime scene investigator.
In the Retired Public Safety Officer of the Year Category, former Gainesville Police Department crime scene investigator Lowell McNeal was honored. Other finalists for the award were former Gainesville Fire Department Chief A.B. Sailors and retired Hall County Sheriff’s Capt. Harry Chapman.
Joe Thompson, Exalted Ruler for the Gainesville Elks Lodge, said the annual public safety awards have been a long-standing tradition for the organization.
“We feel it’s very important to show how much the community and Elks appreciate the service they perform for the public,” Thompson said. “It’s one thing the Elks really believe in.”