Many calls, many saved lives in 85 years
Some of the incidents Patchogue Ambulance Co. staff and volunteers have to deal with are wrenching.
“Trains versus pedestrians — it never works out well,” said ambulance board director Christopher Schiera candidly. “A lot of times they’re walking on the railroad right of way and fall asleep. Half is intentional, half not. That happens once or twice a year.”
“There was a childhood drowning in the river before CPR around 1973-74,” said board chairman and CEO John Rocco. “I’ll never forget that.”
“We resuscitated a 2-year-old at Corey Beach when there was a shortage of lifeguards,” recalled first responder Phil Rauscher. “John [Rocco] called the town supervisor about it.” More lifeguards were on the beach after that. There was a murder-suicide, a bullet-ridden incident. And that was on a Thursday at 8 a.m.
The calls can include all of the above, along with someone who slips and can’t get up, a drug overdose, a heart attack, a baby that doesn’t wait for the hospital. “It’s like a box of chocolates,” admitted Rauscher. “You never know what you’ll get.”
The Patchogue Ambulance Company is celebrating its 85th year and their demand of life’s emergencies is increasing. “We just got past 900 calls,” said assistant chief and executive vice president Alec O’Leary of this year’s count so far. “Some nights it’s 15 people, others it’s three or four.” In 2018 they had 3,228 emergency calls and Rocco said they grow by 100-plus a year. And the demand is 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
“I can’t say 100 percent, but based on the 6.1 square miles we cover, we’re the busiest ambulance company in the county, even if you look at just the village,” said Rocco. “Violent incidents occur on a regular basis. We had four this past weekend. The apartments by the Fifth Precinct on Waverly Avenue are good for 10 a week,” he gave as an example, “because of the elderly and infirm. Or we get calls for a homeless person who is cold and intoxicated.” In those cases, the person is brought to Long Island Community Hospital to the emergency room, sobered up and given fluids.
One of the challenges is that it’s difficult to staff from trending incidents. “Five minutes from now we could get five calls,” Rocco said. “They come in twos and threes.”
“Yesterday we had no calls,” added O’Leary. “Then sometimes we’re going for 20 hours.”
There are about 85 first responders in total; the day of the interview, two from the paid crew of six who cover the day shifts were Juan Rivadeneya and Rauscher. “They respond first in a vehicle followed by volunteer crew in the ambulance from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” said Rocco. Fifty percent of the first responders are women; 50 percent of the recent applicants were Latinos.
They could always use newcomers.
“Most people work, so it’s hard to get a huge response,” said Schiera. “But we’re fortunate we have a significantly robust response team at night. In the evening from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., it’s fully staffed by volunteers.”
While the ambulance company is funded by two contracts, Brookhaven Town and Village of Patchogue, it has to grapple with state mandates that are unfunded. They were getting two new ambulances which were totally climate controlled. (To retrofit the old ones would cost $40,000, said Rocco.) They stock 25 key medicines, a cardiac monitor that can defibrillate and advanced EKGs that predict the probability and proper immediate treatment of a heart attack. “We can do interventions in the ambulance,” Rocco said.
“So for the hospital, what that does as well is bypass the triage center and the patient goes directly into the cardiac catherization lab,” explained Schiera.
Mark Rocco, John’s son, will tell you that what comes over the dispatch is not necessarily what you experience at the scene. Mark, who started at 19 with ride-alongs, is now a resident at Tulane University and graduated last May with a medical degree. He is completing his first year of residency and will start a radiology internship in July.
“My first experience was a motorcycle accident, where a drunk driver slammed into the motorcycle, propelling the cyclist over his vehicle. I also delivered a baby.” He was an active member for five years, driving an ambulance for two years and was EMT-certified for three.
Volunteering can be a significant starting point for those wanting to go into the medical field, said John Rocco.
“Four or five have started with Patchogue Ambulance and gone on to become a dentist, physician’s assistant, medical [student],” he said. “It’s a great place to learn about medicine and emergency procedures. We have people from all fields of the medical profession who also stay with us. There’s that whole community service angle that people have to have on their resume today. They have a leg up on others trying to get into school for these positions.”
Training includes an entire EMT syllabus of over 180 hours of classroom training followed by hours of using equipment and recognizing symptoms.
“Our EMTs administer Narcan, breathing treatments, and help stabilize people so they have a non-eventful transport,” Rocco said. “They’re at the paramedic level. In many cases, [we] bring the emergency room to the patient. Members go through hundreds of hours of training.” Volunteers get a small retirement program benefit for those with long service.
They don’t get much attention for what they do because, as Rocco says, “saving lives is part of our job description.” But on most calls, they do get satisfaction. Like this one:
“We were dispatched to a man who was having a cardiac arrest,” described O’Leary. “One of our members was at the Van Guard [Fire Department].” The man with the heart incident was laying off Mascot Dock; CPR and an automatic defibrillator were utilized. The man called his daughter, a nurse, who also helped resuscitate her father.
The man recovered and attended his daughter’s wedding.
Celebrate the Patchogue Ambulance Company’s 85th year with their first responders at an open house on Sunday, May 19 from noon to 4 p.m. Food, soft drinks, demonstrations and raffles will be available.
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