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Getting the Call: Former EMT remembers the Day Elvis Dead

By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Al Bell MillingtonMillington Alderman Albert “Al” Bell has been a decorated public servant for many years from Memphis to Millington.
He has seen many wonderful moments helping the public as a EMT, firefighter and police officer. And Bell has endured his share of moments of sorrow during his career.
One day that will stick with him and many throughout the world will be August 16, 1977 — the Day Elvis Dead. This week marked the 40th anniversary of the legendary entertainer’s passing at Graceland in Memphis.
Many flocked to the Whitehaven area in the Bluff City this past week to remember the King of Rock N Roll Elvis Presley. Some took to social media to mark the anniversary.
It was through social media and one Memphis Fire Department firefighter’s recollection that the name Al Bell popped up. The post was called “Inside the Memphis Fire Department Fire Alarm Office Dispatch.”
One passage read, “The recording goes on and has several conversations. One conversation is shortly after Unit 6 arrived at Baptist Hospital Central and Memphis Fire Department EMS Lieutenant Albert Bell calls up the Watch Commander in the Fire Alarm Office. Senior Operator Gerald White. EMS Lieutenant Albert Bell asks him if he knew we had dispatched to Elvis’ house and he advises yes he did and Albert Bell goes on to tell him it was “him” and he is DOA.”
Bell remembers that day as a normal warm August day in Memphis. After that call came through his radio, Bell knew that day 40 years ago would be remembered forever.
“I was working a two-car motor vehicle accident out in Frayser,” Bell recalled. “One of my units made it and I as backing them up supervising what they were doing. It was around 2:30 in the afternoon. I heard a dispatch to Graceland.
“That particular time I knew that they were going there,” he continued. “It wasn’t unusual for us to go there because we have made his Daddy before. People go down there to the gate and pass out. So I didn’t think anything about it. But shortly after that, the EMT on the ambulance called to give me the information about Elvis passing.”
As the EMT supervisor for the MFD at the time, Bell covered half of the city with six units. It was Unit 6, one of his crews, that tried to save Presley’s life.
“They tried to revive him on their way to Baptist Hospital in Downtown Memphis to no unveil,” Bell said.
“Short time after his passing the word got out,” he added. “They got calls from everywhere like the BBC and all over the country. When we got ready to deal with the services, people flocked by the thousands to Memphis. It was one of the biggest things that ever happen in Memphis history.”
Bell and other public safety servants were busy for the next few days in Memphis with so many coming to honor the King. He remembers administering first aid to fans overcome with grief in the hot conditions.
From his movies to iconic songs, Elvis had a lasting impact on many. Bell said that was made evident by the reactions that day and the past 40 years.
“I was in that group,” he said. “I was one of the kids who grew up listening to him. I was part of his fan base. I liked his singing and everything.”
Then 33-years-old, Bell said August 16, 1977 will be on of the days he will never forget. But he had to put aside his fandom and be professional.
“What I will remember most about that day, he died,” Bell said. “To get that call telling me he passed, I hate to hear about anybody passing. But to be him, you knew it was going to be massive and chaos from everybody. And it was.”
As Elvis Week 2017 concludes, Bell said the impact of Elvis will continue.
“He’s still making money,” he concluded.

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August 2017
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