DOVER — Ralph Neil walked out of the Kent County Department of Public Safety headquarters and into the rest of his life during a recent retirement ceremony.
After more than two decades as a county paramedic, Mr. Neil, 62, was honored by an array of past and present first responders, former partners, mentors, family and friends during a ceremony July 31.
“They were applauding me, and I was applauding them because, if it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have been there,” Mr. Neil said. “Believe me, this is not a ‘me’ thing. This is a ‘we’ thing, an ‘us’ thing, and it always has been.”
The walkout event included a review of Mr. Neil’s accomplishments broadcast over the 911 radio system before he exited the building. Director of Public Safety Colin Faulkner said he exchanged salutes with Mr. Neil, who formally requested permission to leave.
Albeit reluctantly, Mr. Faulkner said he responded with “permission granted.”
Thus ended a run with Kent County that began in 1999. Mr. Neil also previously served as a paramedic in New Castle County for five years, along with more than five years in the Bayhealth and ChristianaCare systems. He garnered another five as a senior counselor with the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.
Acknowledging past mentors, Mr. Neil said he followed their leads and tried to pass on that knowledge to the generation behind him.
“I was taught that no matter how high and how good your grades are, we’re non-omnipotent,” he said. “We were chosen. We didn’t choose it.
“Don’t pat yourself on the back because something is working through us. Continue to try to be better but never be cocky about what you know because it’s beyond that.”
While a head full of knowledge and skilled hands play a large part in a paramedic’s success, Mr. Neil pointed to virtues in the acronym “HEART” — honorable, ethical, assertive, respectful and trustworthy — as crucial to all his colleagues’ performances.
To sum it all up, he said, “It was an honor to be taught by other medics. I kind of hope I made those guys proud. I’ve been teaching what they taught for years and how they did their jobs.”
In the past many months, Mr. Neil and his fellow medical professionals faced the challenges of COVID-19 as his career wound down. He said, “I could have left before this or during this, but you’re just part of a bigger purpose here, and I couldn’t just leave the side of my medics who all have the same mission.”
Response protocols that typically changed every couple years were being changed “every other day” as the pandemic unfolded “because of what (information) was being released, what we knew, what we didn’t know,” Mr. Neil said.
About the coronavirus, he added, “It’s real. A lot of people are saying it’s fake, but you can’t fake deaths. People want to argue about inoculation and what’s starting again, but you can’t fake the deaths. You can’t fake the sick people we’ve seen.”
To protect family members at his Smyrna home, Mr. Neil said he lived in a camper outside the residence “for quite a few months.” The camper was donated by the Camden-Wyoming Fire Co.
Mr. Faulkner said that “Ralph represents a high level of maturity that comes especially with tenure and as your career progresses. The embedded benefit from having veteran medics who have done it all and seen it all is the wisdom and guidance they can provide to our more recently hired men and women of the Department of Public Safety.
“Ralph was this person. He was a friend to all and has imparted guidance and wisdom to our field medics over the years.”
Additionally, Mr. Faulkner pointed to Mr. Neil’s role as a field training officer for Kent County and educator for other public safety agencies.
Teaching at the Delaware State Fire School will continue, Mr. Neil said.
“His ability to impart knowledge and guidance in patient care and other operational areas in a meaningful manner was well-appreciated by the department’s administration, as well as our first responders,” Mr. Faulkner said.
Mr. Neil’s retirement is the latest in a string of veteran departures in the department, Mr. Faulkner said. The statewide paramedic program, which debuted in 1990, is seeing some of its original members retire. There have been three retirements in the past three months, and “there are more to come in a relatively short time frame,” he added.
Regarding Mr. Neil’s departure, Mr. Faulkner said, “Walkout (ceremonies) are not uncommon for uniformed services and is a show of respect for the years of service and dedication that a retiree has accomplished. It is our way of saying thank you. Thank you for all you have done and thank you for your years of service. We appreciate you.
“Walkouts are typically attended by other public safety agencies, as well. It is a very emotionally charged event but yet a happy event. It is a culminating activity for a distinguished career that deserves such revered acknowledgment.”
While veterans’ departures certainly add to the challenge of a profession already seeing personnel shortages, Mr. Faulkner explained, “Hopefully and no doubt, others will step into those enormous shoes to fill, but Ralph’s departure from our department is extremely palpable.
“It is also very challenging at a time when paramedics are in extreme short supply. No doubt we in administration will be spending considerable time and effort filling the void that Ralph has left now that he has retired. We all wish him the very best in his journey and (are) hoping that his retirement is enjoyable and all that he expects.”
The paramedic system’s future is bright, Mr. Neil said.
“The new medics rolling out there — oh, my God, I feel comfortable calling 911."