He’s one of the most frequent life-saver in Flagler County that you’ve almost never heard of: Roy Longo, currently the longest-serving county fire rescue paramedic whom the county commission recognized this evening for his 30 years of service, the last eight as a medic aboard Fire Flight, the emergency helicopter.
You may not necessarily know Longo, but know that Fire Flight sound as it whirls overhead, chopping the miles from one trauma scene or another down to Halifax hospital in Daytona Beach with its occupants–the pilot, the patient and, whenever he’s been on duty, Longo, one of whose specialties and affection for the job is to reassure and stabilize his patients, not just medically but mentally.
And if you’ve been around long enough, you probably remember him for one of his finest hours in the winter of 1999: driving a 3-foot-long clymene dolphin that had been in distress in Flagler Beach to a 1,000-gallon holding tank at the Flagler Beach fire station–by county ambulance.
The rescue drew plenty of attention and some controversy: then-County Administrator Chris Chinault suspended Longo for two shifts for breaking policy by using a county ambulance in the rescue. That in turn triggered further controversy as residents condemned the administrator’s decision and showered Longo with donations. But Longo, true to form, accepted neither the money nor the way the administrator was being condemned.
“The offers of financial reimbursement I received since the story broke have humbled me and renewed my faith in the American people,” Longo wrote in a News-Journal letter to the editor. “I do, however, decline any financial donations made to me personally. It was never my intent to gain anything from this except the satisfaction of helping a dolphin. If anyone wants to make a donation, then donate to the care of the dolphin. I also do not resent the county for its actions. They acted as they should when a policy is violated. As a senior member of the Ambulance Service, I would be sending the wrong message to newer and younger employees if I could disregard regulations without punishment.”
He’d been working at the department 10 years by then.
Longo, a New Jersey native, started work as a Flagler paramedic in 1989, when the population of Flagler was not yet 30,000, when the City of Palm Coast was still in embryo, and when Democrats and unions were not yet on the regional endangered species. (Longo has been a strong union advocate.) A mini-tribute video shown at the meeting pegged his first year of service for the county to the goings on in 1989: the year the World Wide Web was invented and the Berlin Wall came down, the year the first Simpsons and Seinfeld episodes aired, and–something the tribute missed–the year Longo despaired of his beloved Yankees winning another World Series: they’d gone 11 years without one, their slump had seven years to go yet, so it was probably better for him to put some distance between him and them. (Instead of a profile picture on his Facebook page, it’s the Yankees’ logo.)
He was a mentor to younger firefighters from early on. “One of his strengths was to take new employees once they were cleared as medics and teach them to be stronger at their skills as a medic, and he took pride in that,” Deputy Fire Chief Joe King said this evening, addressing the county commission, as a befuddled Longo stood between him and Captain Richard Bennett, his closest friend.
When the medic job on Fire Flight opened up, Longo jumped on. He’s flown 504 missions on FireFlight since, logging 362 flight hours, the last one on Dec. 1 before the helicopter was grounded for its annual maintenance. He was given a ceremonial farewell over the emergency radios a couple of weeks back, but his last shift will be on Dec. 22.
“Thirty years is a long time for any one person to work with any fire agency,” King said. “I think it’s an honor to be able to be up here tonight with him and give him these certificates.” Longo got one certificate for 30 years of service from the fire department and a certificate of retirement from the county commission “in grateful appreciation of your dedicated service during the honorable career of 30 years with Flagler County. We wish you the best in your future endeavors in years to come.”
Longo would have probably been more comfortable flying somewhere, anywhere, than addressing the commission: “I really appreciate all this. It’s totally unexpected. It’s been a great career. I love Flagler County,” he said.
He then returned to duty.