Firefighter: Never Realized a 'Female as Small as Me' Could Do a Job Like This
Tanja Vidovic, of Station 22 in New Tampa, is our first-responder of the week.
Firefighter and paramedic Tanja Vidovic will have served 4 years as a City of Tampa firefighter on Nov. 17. She has been at Station 22 in New Tampa since it opened in April.
Vidovic put in her first two years at Station 13 near Busch Gardens before transferring to Station 10 on 34th Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Bl. and then on to Station 22.
Vidovic has always been a community-oriented person. She enjoys the non-emergency community service that Tampa Fire Rescue provides as well as battling blazes, and things like doing station tours and blood pressure tests. You can find her painting houses with the Local 754 Labor Union's "Paint Your Heart Out" operation, which is basically a community/residential cleanup project.
She enjoys giving station tours and especially helping at the department's Burn Camp, where severe burn victims in the community gather in a summer camp-type atmosphere.
Patch: What made you want to become a firefighter?
Vidovic: I always pictured firefighters as big, strong guys. Then one day a friend of mine, Michael Huff, a Sarasota firefighter, recommended it. I didn't realize a female as small as me could do a job like that but here I am.
Patch: Describe your most harrowing experience on the job.
Vidovic: It was just 6 months on the job; I hadn't even been to paramedic school yet. This is when I was at Station 13. A woman had left her 5-month-old baby to teethe on a pizza crust. She said she had stepped outside and when she came back the baby had the crust lodged in its throat. The baby had also wrapped itself so tight in a blanket it was suffocating. When we arrived the lady came out screaming with the baby in her hands. We rushed the baby into the rescue truck and tried to get an IV going. We had to use a technique called "drilling," which is literally drilling into the bone — usually the shin — to get access to deliver medication. We were doing chest compressions trying to get everything out and it caused a lot of fluid trapped in the lungs to come out. The baby was asystole the whole time. Asystole is when there is no electric activity in the heart, basically it means you're flat-lining. Sometimes you can get them back but they are pretty much already gone. It was sad, the mother came out carrying the baby's shoes to take with us but the baby never made it. It was a wake-up call for me anytime kids are involved. I mean, she was just sitting on the couch teething.
Patch: What has been your most rewarding experience of your career?
Vidovic: Again, while I was at Station 13, this is late 2010. We got a call for a baby delivery. The location was a motel for a woman who was 20 weeks, a delivery-imminent situation. I wondered at first why they called us but then I found out that the mother had tried to have an abortion the day before but she was told that she was too far along in her pregnancy. We think she then tried to do it herself, there were tourniquets and drug paraphernalia all over the room. By the time we got there they had just been born, twins — two little four- to five-inch babies. They fit in the palm of your hand. One was already not breathing and we did not have a mask small enough for either of them. All we could do was little chest compressions with the tip of your finger. By the time we arrived at the hospital we had them both breathing with heart beats. I stayed to watch them intubated, wondering what would happen. Five months later, this woman, who must have adopted them, shows up at the station with these two cutest, fattest little things, they showed no signs of what they'd been through.
Patch: What do you enjoy about working in New Tampa?
Vidovic: Just how friendly and appreciative the people are. People stop by the station just to say hi. Even on calls it's the way people appreciate the service.
Patch: If you weren't working as a firefighter, what do you think you would be doing?
Vidovic: Probably something to do with organic gardening. We do a lot of gardening at the house. I've been a vegetarian for 20 years.