. . . and she was an American hero. Her name was Elaine Hackett. Her first name was “Beverly” but she was “Elaine” to everybody who knew her.
In the years before I met her she had attended Long Beach City College and earned her Emergency Medical Technician certification. And for Elaine, that’s where it all started.
She was married to a terrific cop named Michael Hackett, an Imperial Valley Sheriff deputy. So when Mike was assigned as the resident deputy to a small town called Salton City, located on the south shore of the Salton Sea, Elaine joined the Salton Community Services Fire-Rescue Department as a Firefighter/EMT.
By the time I met her, Elaine had been promoted to Fire Chief. I did not know at the time that Elaine Hackett was the first full-time lady Fire Chief in the United States. Coincidentally, when I was hired and assigned as the Salton City resident medic, I was the only Paramedic in the Salton Sea area. I was issued badge #13. So Elaine and I, and a handful of dedicated, volunteer EMTs . . . well, we responded to a ton of 911 calls day and night, with almost no help whatsoever: boaters in trouble; CPR in progress; lost campers; house fires; and on the desert’s infamous Highway 86 – some of the most horrific traffic crashes in this nation’s history.
She was a wonderful, and funny, partner. She was tiny and lithe and always willing to learn. She was quick to laugh at her own mistakes, which come to think of it, were few. We were a very, very small team of rescuers, working an almost impossible-to-cover, desert expanse. We drove rescue trucks and ambulances and experienced tragedy after tragedy, together.
Sad to say after only 2 years, California State legislature passed the famous Proposition 13 tax law, which absolutely decimated small fire service districts – which Salton Community certainly was. Prop 13 – identical to my badge number – did this by outlawing the ability of these fire and rescue district agencies to continue to use tax money to fund services. Suddenly, we had no money to operate. So Salton City lost its lady fire chief, and lost its resident paramedic.
But I have always kept my Salton Community Rescue District badge #13. And it means more to me today than it did then.
Elaine was a talented lady, and was hired almost immediately as a 911 dispatcher for the El Centro Police Department. While working there, she attended Imperial Valley College 2-year nursing program, and graduated among the top of her class as a Registered Nurse. She was then hired by Pioneers Memorial Hospital, in the desert city of Brawley, and gravitated into emergency nursing – which certainly was predictable. It wasn’t long before Elaine was recruited by the nursing department of the college to join the nursing instructor team. At IVC Elaine taught numerous classes including medical terminology, blood draws and clinical nursing. When the college began its own Paramedic training program, Elaine was a natural to become a Paramedic trainer as part of their Phase 2 hospital intern rotations.
It is a fact that many of the Paramedics working across Imperial Valley today were Elaine’s interns at Pioneers Memorial Hospital, as are many of the nurses in desert hospitals.
When Assistant Sheriff Mike Hackett retired from Imperial County Sheriff Department, they moved to Oceanside. But Elaine would commute the 120 miles to the desert and continue training paramedics, and watch them graduate with pride.
While emergency medicine was her passion, she took up art in the last 10 years, and joined with a circle of artist friends. She did very well, and won awards for her paintings of people and animals – especially horses. Her art has been on display in multiple venues in North San Diego County.
She and her husband Mike Hackett were together 41 years. They were quiet American heroes. They served their communities with dignity.
I had a friend once. Her name was Elaine. And now all of those cheerful energies for learning and teaching and helping others, have come to rest at San Diego’s Miramar National Cemetery. And of all the regrettable realities in the often wicked world of EMS, one of them is surely this:
There are just not enough Elaine Hacketts in the world.