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McMinn County EMS credited with saving Troopers life; receive national acclaim

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ATHENS, MCMINN COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)  --  "It's in my blood. I love it. I wouldn't do anything else," says Kristi Graham, a McMinn County EMT.

Graham says she wouldn't change her job for anything in the world. 

"They let me ride on the ambulance one day over here in Meigs County and I have been hooked ever since," she says. 

Nearly one month ago, Graham and her co-worker Freddie Leslie were on their way back to Athens, after transferring a patient to Knoxville.

For Trooper Lowell Russell, they were a Godsend.

"We topped the hill and I just happened to see a car spinning across the interstate on fire," Graham explains. "Then as we got closer, it slammed into the wall. The gas tank exploded, so it burst into flames even more."  

Trooper Russell was parked on the side of the interstate, doing paperwork when the driver of an 18-wheeler fell asleep at the wheel and plowed into the back of him.

Graham and Leslie sprang into action.

"All of the car except for his drivers compartment was on fire," says Graham.

She says her partner suffered burns to his face.

"He just grabbed his leg and started pulling and I was standing 5 feet away with a fire extinguisher incase either one of them came out on fire," she says. "I reached to feel for a pulse and as soon as I felt one, the excitement really set in because we knew he was alive."

Russell was taken to the UT Medical Center in critical condition but if it hadn't been for the people who risked their lives to save him, he may not be here at all.

"It didn't make it any difference that he was a state trooper," Graham says. "We would've done it for anybody."

Their bravery earned them a number of awards, but Graham says there's only one that really matters.

"The best award we could ever get is seeing him go back to work, seeing him be able to do what he loves," says Graham.

Monday, Graham and Leslie along with two Knoxville police officers and a private citizen were honored for their heroic efforts.

Graham says they're heading to Washington at the end of the month to receive the Stars of Life Award.

Trooper Russell is still recovering. He was released from UT Medical Center earlier this month and is now doing in-patient rehabilitation.

About a week after Russell's accident, Graham and Leslie answered a call in McMinn County and saved a man's life with CPR.

They will receive the Life Saver pin for their work.

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