By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
JoAnna McBee always knew she wanted to help people. Growing up, she originally wanted to become a doctor.
“Then it turned to me wanting to be a physician’s assistant, then to being a nurse,” McBee said. She finally decided she wanted to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the Marion County Rescue Squad (MCRS).
“Unfortunately, it took that steady slope of going down in pay levels and school time,” McBee said with a laugh.
“I always loved taking care of people and being there for people,” McBee said. “It was from my mom bringing me up.
“My mom raised me in church, and that’s something I thank her for every day. I think I would say that is probably what turned me to say that this is the best way that I could care for people, to literally take care of them, take them to the hospital when they needed to, or take them to a doctor’s appointment, or whatever.”
McBee was born and raised in Fairmont, graduating from East Fairmont High School in 2002. Even though as a senior in high school she was already considering becoming an EMT, she decided to go into Fairmont State University’s nursing program on the advice of her guidance counselor.
“My counselor actually told me at the time, ‘Oh, you don’t want to do that (be an EMT). You want to stick with nursing because they make more money,’” McBee said.
So she entered into FSU’s nursing program in 2003. But while she was in the nursing program, she was already involved with the MCRS. So when she failed her last semester of nursing school twice by the same number of points (only .04), she decided she should follow her calling and become an EMT as her full-time career.
“When that happened and I failed out of nursing school, I just felt that it was God’s way of saying this is the job you’re supposed to do,” McBee said.
McBee has been very successful at the MCRS. In addition to her work as an EMT, she also reached out to high schoolers in the county last year by putting on a mock DUI accident. It took months to put together. McBee coordinated with local fire departments, police officers, schools, towing companies, HealthNet, and 3 Rivers Iron and Metal to make the simulated accident as realistic and impactful as possible for the kids.
“A lot of the kids, they hear the dangers of drinking and driving, but they don’t get the opportunity to really see what trauma it can cause,” McBee said.
Through her work with her church youth group, McBee was able to recruit teenagers she knew from each of the high schools to act as the drunk drivers and their passengers. The day of the accident, a towing company brought in a wrecked car. McBee narrated as the accident unfolded. She picked a teenager to call 911, and then kids heard the accident toned over the 911 line, just as it would be in a real accident.
The car was cut open to extract the driver and the passenger, and the passenger was backboarded, in case there were spinal injuries.
When the DUI driver and injured passenger emerged from the vehicle, they really looked as if they had been in an accident.
“Brian West, who came from the Illusive Skull, did the makeup for our victims, and bloodied them up and made them look like they had been in an accident with bruises and everything,” McBee said.
A police officer gave the driver a sobriety test, which the student failed. At a few of the schools, a HealthNet helicopter landed, and the injured passenger was loaded on to the helicopter.
Because they were able to create such a realistic portrayal of a DUI accident, McBee believes the simulation was more effective.
“I felt it was able to reach them on a deeper level,” McBee said.
The simulation was done just before the prom season started. McBee told the students to make sure to be safe this prom season.
“Don’t make a decision that’s going to ruin the rest of your life,” McBee said. “You can either be the kid that goes home to mom and dad, and says ‘I had a great prom,’ or you can be the kid that isn’t allowed to go home because you’re going to jail because you just killed your best friend, or you injured them really badly. Or you could be the kid laying in a hospital because you chose to get in the vehicle with someone you knew had been drinking that evening.”
McBee said that the simulation was very successful, and even today, she has kids come up to her and tell her they remember that day in school.
McBee is also involved in working with kids outside of work. She started going to church at Fairmont Free Methodist Church at the beginning of this year. She grew up going to Mt. Sharon Free Methodist Church on Bunner Ridge, but after getting married Oct. 20, 2012, decided she and her husband needed a change.
“I had recently gotten married, and we decided that God had led us to a new church,” McBee said.
She had been involved with the youth group at Mt. Sharon, working with middle and high schoolers, for seven or eight years. When she moved to the Fairmont Free Methodist Church, she decided to continue her involvement, this time teaching at a Christian Life Club with fifth- and sixth-graders.
“Working with children of this age is something completely new to me,” McBee said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere. They’re so much more giddy and rambunctious. But they have a great outlook on life. They haven’t begun to experience so much trauma in their lives yet, and it’s really nice to see the happiness in them.”
McBee said that working with youth is important to her.
“So many of our kids nowadays are just struggling with so much,” McBee said. “They just need an extra support system sometimes.”
McBee also works at the Blackhills Free Methodist Church Camp each summer in Grafton. She’s worked there for years, and each summer she would go there, hoping to find true love.
“I wanted that church romance that everybody had gotten,” McBee said.
In 2011, she almost didn’t go to camp.
“I had some things that had happened, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go,” McBee said. “But something told me, ‘You need to go.’ Well, not something. God told me that I needed to go because He wanted me to go and do the things He’d asked me to do.”
So that summer, she didn’t spend time focused on finding love, but instead focused on the kids and giving them the best summer she could.
Then she met her future husband, Richard McBee.
“I started talking to him, and I had no interest in him, to be honest with you,” McBee said. “But after two days of talking to him, it was like I really like this guy. So, by the end of the week, it was like this is the guy for me, I really think it is. And it was.”
They married in 2012.
“We knew we were supposed to be together,” McBee said.
Richard McBee is originally from Rivesville, but they decided to make their home in Fairmont. They love to travel together.
“We love to do the outdoorsy things,” McBee said. “We had gone horseback riding up to Seneca on our honeymoon, and that was one of the highlights of our honeymoon. It was really awesome. We love to go to Valley Falls, and walk around there, and we love the rails-to-trails.”
She also loves to spend time with her family. ”Family is very important to me,” McBee said. “It’s really hard to find time to see them sometimes. It’s so crazy how busy we get in our lives, but I love my family so much.”
Her family loves to go camping, bringing their camper to places as far away as Walt Disney World in Florida and Niagara Falls in Canada.
“We were always camping,” McBee said. “That was always good family time together, and that was what was wonderful. You didn’t have a lot of distractions or anything. You just sat around a fire and enjoyed it.”
Email Colleen S. Good at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.