By Jeanne Sager
HARRIS May 26, 2006 It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a crew of EMS workers to keep the village safe.
But with volunteer numbers at an all time low, the theme of EMS Week in Sullivan County last week was a somber one.
If people dont start volunteering, these smaller squads are going to be going by the wayside, said Diana Duffy, president of the Sullivan County EMS Council and personnel and training officer for Upper Delaware Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
The council handed out its awards in a small ceremony at Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris Sunday afternoon.
There was a lot to cheer about the 19 EMS squads in Sullivan County (including the for-profit MobileMedic, the Hasidic Hatzollah as well as the volunteer corps) responded to almost 15,000 calls in the last year.
Among them were a child who flipped her bike off a railroad trestle landing in a ravine some 30 feet below, an accident on 17B that made national headlines and claimed lives, and the little old lady who called 911 in the middle of the night because she was scared.
Whether its a big accident where a lot of people are injured, or a little kid with a small injury, they all affect you the same, said Neil Meddaugh, captain of the Rock Hill Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
You prepare for the worst you hope for the best, noted Livingston Manor EMS worker Pete Feinberg.
And all calls, Feinberg said, change your life.
For the dozens of emergency medical responders in the county, the calls can take them away from families during Christmas dinner or pull them out of bed at 3 a.m.
EMS Coordinator Greg Tavormina jokes that his wife joined the Woodbourne Corps so shed get to see him once in awhile!
Unlike Duffy, who joined the EMS service 10 years ago after 12 years working as a registered nurse at Catskill Regional Medical Center, Tavormina has no medical background.
So whyd he sign up?
Genetics, he said with a laugh.
His mother was a nurse at the hospital, his father one of the founding members of EMS in the Town of Fallsburg.
Theres something about this there is a predisposition, Duffy said.
But once they get involved, they find they get drawn into the vortex! she added with a laugh.
Duffys husband, Steve, has been riding with Upper Delaware for eight years.
His involvement started when calls came in for Diana, and he roused her out of bed.
When their children were old enough to be left alone if a call came in the middle of the night, Duffy started driving the rig.
Now hes certified in basic life support.
When son Connor turns 16 (still a year away), he plans to join the corps as a junior member.
But thats a rarity in these times, Tavormina said.
The demographics are changing, he noted. People moving up from the city, from Rockland County . . . who are used to having paid ambulance, they dont realize were in need of volunteers.
When the ambulance pulls up, Tavormina said patients are pulling out their insurance cards and asking how much this is going to cost them.
We say, No, you dont understand, were volunteers, he explained. Its such a foreign concept to them.
So foreign that in Duffys time answering emergency calls, shes seen three corps shut down Fallsburg, Loch Sheldrake and Monticello no longer have volunteer squads.
But the news isnt all bad.
The EMS Council honored the Neversink Fire Departments EMS squad Sunday for 50 years of service.
Compared to fire departments, EMS corps are relatively new, Duffy said, with the oldest organized just 60 or 65 years ago.
The folks in Neversink have a lot to be proud of, she added.
Donna Denman, captain of the Grahamsville squad, earned this years Basic Life Support Award for her 40-some years of service in her community.
Chuck Atwell, captain of the Mountaindale Volunteer Corps, who also rides for MobileMedic and Regional EMS in Orange County, was honored with this years Advanced Life Support Award.
The Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps received this years Agency Award.
The corps story is similar to that of every other corps in the county, Duffy said: small town, dwindling population, no one seems to have enough time to volunteer.
Still, a crew goes out to answer EMS calls every time the 911 Center receives a request.
James Vooght and Mike Congelosi, dispatchers at the 911 Center, were honored as Communicators of the Year.
Both men were on duty the day Sullivan County Sheriffs Deputy Percy Ramos lost control of his cruiser on the way to a domestic dispute in Lumberland.
They kept their cool with two major emergencies on their hands.
The EMS Council also handed out the Harriet C. Weber EMS Leadership Award again this year ironically, it went to Webers son-in-law, Livingston Manor volunteer Don Harrow.
Educator of the Year was awarded to a MobileMedic staff member who rides with an out-of-county squad in his spare time. Joe Cazzolla is director of education at the Hurleyville-based EMS company and a member of the corps in Downsville.
Also on the list were two awards to non-EMS personnel.
Dr. James Dwyer received the Physician of the Year Award, because the staff and EMS workers both know things will run smoothly when hes on duty in the emergency room, Duffy said.
Registered Nurse Stuart Hirsch claimed the award won by Duffy last year.
As Nurse of the Year, Hirschs name was also sent on to Hudson Valley Regional EMS.
They too bestowed the Nurse of the Year honor on Hirsch the second year in a row the honor has belonged to a CRMC nurse.
To kick off the dinner, Hirsch relayed a piece of good news to the EMS personnel in the audience Air Medicine will be stationing a helicopter right at Catskill Regional in Harris so patients can be airlifted quickly to Westchester Medical Center as needed.
Along with continuing education, this is one more thing the EMS workers can offer people of Sullivan County in times of emergency.
But Duffy said people need to remember what the EMS squads really need.
The face of EMS is changing, and it all requires the public to get involved and start joining, she said. Those that cant do the medical part . . . theres other things they can do for the corps.
Volunteers age 16 and up can help with paperwork or outfitting the rig. Folks 21 and up can learn to drive the ambulance freeing up the EMTs to work on the patient in the back.
There are so many reasons why EMS needs to be here, Duffy said. People need the education, but they also need the care in those times that they cant transport themselves to the hospital.
Even if its just an hour a week, a shift a month, people need to volunteer.
Most squads have an answering machine and potential volunteers are encouraged to call at any time for information.
Letters can also be sent to the Sullivan County EMS Council, P.O. Box 307, Harris, NY 12742.
If they write to us, Ill make sure theyre handed to the captain, handed to a person! Duffy said.