JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
The black smoke swirled around the young fireman as he helped fight the growing flames that threatened to consume the home. Through the rolling darkness that consumed him, a hand passed back what looked like a dirty rag.
This was 15-year-old Jeffery Barbour’s first experience in a burning building after joining the Hampton Fire Department on July 10, 1972, following a long line of firefighting family members.
“I grew up in the fire station,” Barbour said. “At the age of 16, I knew a lot more about the job than most people. Smoke is in my blood. My great, great grandfather was one of the original 12 charter members of the Hampton Fire Department.”
Barbour saved his first human life while in high school, when he performed CPR on a high school freshman after an accident during a sporting event.
Now as a 633rd Medical Group clinical specialist in the same-day surgery and post-anesthesia unit, Barbour noted his interest in helping others stems from a family tradition of serving others.
While with the Fire Department, Barbour got his first taste of medical care by taking American Red Cross first aid classes. He then used this training during his time as a member of an ambulance rescue squad, along with his brothers, Jack and Jesse.
During his time with the ambulance squad, Barbour’s mentor, Wayne Collins, who taught him a great deal about being a first responder, helped him realize his passion for medical care.
After graduating high school, Barbour decided to follow his mentor, Collins, to nursing school.
“I graduated on a Friday and started the nursing program that next Monday,” Barbour said. “I worked two years at a paid ambulance service and did other jobs to make money for school.”
When his school hours changed, Barbour transferred work to another hospital and worked as a technician in the emergency room. He picked up skills from the other health care providers that he could use later in his career.
“I was attending nursing school five days a week and paramedic school two nights a week and occasionally on Saturdays,” Barbour said.
After graduating nursing and paramedic school, Barbour worked at the Hampton General Hospital and taught the Emergency Medical Services program at Thomas Nelson Community College for 16 years.
“I've been in the Post Anesthesia Care Unit most of my career since 1988,” Barbour said. “I retired from Sentara Hospital in December 2006 and then immediately came here as a contractor to fill a civil service position.”
One of the things Barbour takes the most pride in is patient care, and ensuring a speedy recovery.
“If I take care of somebody in the PACU here, I'll go up to the floor they are on to see them or I'll check on them later outside,” Barbour said. “I've even delivered discharge instructions patients forgot to take with them to their house, so they have them and just to make sure they are okay. I will go the extra step for my patients.”
Leaving a legacy
With his extensive knowledge and dedication to his career, Barbour is the go-to at the hospital when it comes to education. He spends a lot of time training the new Intensive Care Unit nurses and the CPR and Basic Life Support classes for the whole base.
During his more than 40-year career as a nurse, Barbour has worked with and raised a fair share of doctors and nurses and has kept up with most of them throughout their careers.
To Barbour, the medical providers he works with and trains are his “kids.”
“I tell my kids, although they may be in their 20s and 30s, they are still kids to me, that I hope they never have to see or do half the things that I had to,” Barbour said. “I don't need to run all the touchdowns myself. I can watch my kids excel and do wonderful things with their careers.”
Barbour talked about how nursing requires some of the same values as the Air Force core values and uses a quote from Vince Lombardi, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence,” as inspiration to strive for.
Along with training Joint Base Langley-Eustis personnel, Barbour has taught basic and advanced classes for the American Heart Association to more than 500 high school students, police, fire and Emergency Medical Services.
Being a first responder and a nurse, Barbour talked about the strain of being a part of the worst day of someone’s life.
“When it comes to taking care of people, we don’t understand why things happen in this world but we'll find the answer to that question someday,” Barbour said.
In coping with the weight of his job, Barbour looks forward to his hobbies such as amateur radio, riding his motorcycle, camping, learning about history and playing taps at memorials and dedications.
Barbour plans on continuing his career as a nurse at Langley Hospital until he retires in 2023 to spend time with his wife, Lori, and do more of the things he loves.
It has been many years since then 15-year-old Barbour climbed a set of stairs through heavy smoke to fight a kitchen fire that demolished most of the building and where he saved his first life: a kitten.
Pushing through the smoke, Barbour carried the kitten out to a balcony where he puffed breaths of air and performed compressions before taking the kitten to the rescue truck for further treatment.
That was the beginning of Barbour’s more than 40 years of service to his country where although he may have worn several different uniforms, he still provided the same dedicated care to each life he touched.