We can do incredible things nowadays. Every ambulance is a mobile emergency room,” said Richard Muellerleile, president of the Ulster County Emergency Medical Services Council, which held its annual Award and Recognition dinner on May 16, honoring a number of individuals and crews, including Woodstock’s rescue squad, named EMS Agency of the Year. The event was held in conjunction with National EMS Week, May 18-24, designed to publicly recognize the life-saving work provided by more than 750,000 EMTs, paramedics and first responders and the crucial role they perform in pre-hospital emergency medical care to millions of Americans each year.
Among the other honorees were a paramedic severely injured in the line of duty and the personnel who saved the life of a Wallkill girl when she had a heart attack on the high school volleyball court last year.
Officially known as Woodstock Fire District Co. No. 5, the Woodstock squad has survived the travails of diminishing volunteerism and established itself as a combined volunteer and professional team. Richard Edelson, a 16-year volunteer, has watched the group go through major changes. The floundering economy has made it difficult for people to hold multiple jobs and simultaneously volunteer on EMS crews. Paramedics require intensive training, and while Woodstock has Basic Life Support volunteers, it’s been hard to hold onto volunteer paramedics for calls requiring Advanced Life Support — IVs, intubation, EKGs, administration of certain heart attack and seizure medications.
After researching all the possibilities for dealing with the problem, the department recommended hiring paid paramedics. “It didn’t go over well with volunteers in the fire department, which is all volunteer,” said Edelson. “It took almost 10 years to get over the hump and make the town see that this was the way to go.” Over the past five years, the town has hired full-time paramedics, so there is someone on call 24/7. Paramedics go straight to the scene, and an ambulance follows within five to six minutes.
“The paid people get along with volunteers, we get crews out on every call, and we even go to other towns when needed,” said Edelson. “We made it clear that we had no choice, and that the cost to the taxpayers is not that great. We persevered and treated everyone with respect. A couple of people threatened to quit but got over it. Some who were ready to retire did quit, and now it’s working.”
Muellerleile, who is a volunteer on the Woodstock squad, is also chief of the Shandaken ambulance service and works full-time as a firefighter/paramedic with the Arlington Fire District in Poughkeepsie. He described the incident last spring when a Wallkill high school student went to her volleyball coach during a time out, announced that she wasn’t feeling well, and fell to the ground, unconscious. The coach immediately began to administer CPR, 911 was called, and someone ran for the defibrillator stored at the school. The device was used to deliver a shock to the girl’s heart. An ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital. “And today Michela is a walking, talking, beautiful girl,” said Muellerleile.
The awards dinner was the occasion of a reunion including Michela, her coaches, the EMS and hospital crews, and members of the public who assisted in saving her life. “She and her rescuers found an incredible friendship,” said Muellerleile. “I told her, ‘You are our heartbeat.’ When we see her, it really drives us in what we do.”
A special award went to William Spadafora, who was driving an ambulance when a head-on collision resulted in critical injuries. “The entire EMS community was worried about him pulling through,” recalled Muellerleile. “He had multiple surgeries and months of rehab, but he was able to come and receive his award.” He described Spadafora as an example of excellence, longevity, and dedication that inspires younger crew members.
Muellerleile also talked about the passion that drives EMS providers. “I live, breathe, eat, and sleep public service,” he said. “It’s what I do and love.”