The story of the Woodstock Rescue Squad

Lorraine Brink, Kathy Platsky and Dawn Neal-Ellsworth. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock had no emergency rescue squad in 1973, when the president of Rotron had a heart attack at the Woodstock Golf Club. In the 45 minutes it took for an ambulance to arrive from Kingston, the man died. The following year, the Woodstock Fire Department agreed to add a fifth company to its volunteer services, and the Woodstock Rescue Squad was formed. 

Still dependent on volunteers, Company Five is offering a six-month EMT training from August 23 through January 17. They are also seeking ambulance drivers, whose minimum requirements are short classes in CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) and OSHA guidelines, plus a valid driver’s license.

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“We will teach you the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course,” said Lorraine Brink, EMT-CC (Emergency Medical Technician-Critical Care), a former physical education and health teacher who is now Company Five’s second lieutenant and training officer. “Anything required of you we teach, and if you become a member, it’s all free.”

The squad now has four full-time paid paramedics, who do 12-hour shifts at the company headquarters on Route 212 in the Bearsville Flats, delivering the county’s fastest emergency response time. The rest of the squad is all-volunteer. When a call comes in, the paramedic responds first, providing emergency care. Meanwhile, volunteers leave their homes, pick up an ambulance, and proceed to the site. If the condition is serious, such as a cardiac call with an unstable EKG reading, the paramedic rides in the ambulance to the hospital. For something minor, like a twisted ankle, the volunteers take over once the patient is stabilized, and the paramedic returns to the station to remain on call. 

When the squad was created, Rotron maintained an ambulance station at its manufacturing plant on Route 375. Rotron employees are still part of the squad and are permitted to leave work and drive an ambulance if a call comes in on the day shift. Volunteers on the night shift, if they live on the edge of Saugerties or out in Wittenberg, sometimes sleep at the station, which is equipped with beds, showers, and a kitchen.

Paramedic Jeff Hook said an estimated 80 percent of calls require BLS, basic life support, while 20 percent need ALS, advanced life support. Mental health issues also arise. Of medical calls, he said, the majority involve general illness, such as abdominal pain. In July, the company responded to one stroke, four cardiac issues, and five respiratory crises.  

‘The adrenaline starts running’

Dawn Neal-Ellsworth, Company Five’s first lieutenant, was inspired to become an EMT when “my uncle had heart attack, and there was nothing I could do.” She has been a squad member since 1996. “I like to volunteer because I like being with people,” said Brink. “I always like to help whoever’s in need. I don’t like to see anyone stuck.”

Kathy Platsky said, “I’ve been doing elder care for 40 years. I always came to the rescue squad to up my CPR card. Every time, they’d beg me to please join, but I was working so many hours I couldn’t.” Once her daughter was out of the house, she finally had time to volunteer. She’s now vice president of Woodstock Rescue.

The EMTs described what it’s like to respond to an emergency. “The adrenaline starts running,” said Platsky.

“It depends on the call,” Brink said. “If it’s a motor vehicle accident, you’re in a different mode than if it’s a mental health transport. You get up, you respond. On the way there, I start running my protocols — What do I expect to see? What am I expected to do? Who’s going to be there — which crew, in which part of town?”

“A pediatric cardiac arrest gets your blood flowing,” Hook said. “Sometimes we get an overdose, or someone cut with a chainsaw — then you have be fast, put a tourniquet on to stop the bleeding.”

Credits for SUNY Ulster

EMT training can be an ideal starting point for young people who might want to pursue a medical career. They have to be 18 by the time the EMT exam is given in January, at the end of the six-month course. “Especially if they’re going to SUNY Ulster,” said Brink, “they can earn credits, and it’s good to volunteer for their community.”

Topics covered in the EMT course include anatomy and physiology, patient assessment, medical and trauma emergencies, lifting and moving, ambulance operation, and many other skills needed for emergency service. Training is held at the rescue squad facility on Route 212.

“We have some firefighters who overlap with the rescue squad,” said Brink. “We also train firefighters on evacuation of people from vehicles and structure fires. We do health checks on firefighters. They can only be inside a burning building for a certain amount of time. Then they have to come to us, and we make sure their body temperature and blood pressure are not too high. Then we can okay them to go back in.”

The squad also offers CPR training for anyone in the community. Course have been held at the Maritime Museum in Kingston and the Woodstock Tennis Club. Hook has taught CPR to the fire department. “We volunteer our time,” Brink said, “so there’s just a materials cost of about $30.”

Platsky runs the LifeLine Program, which provides emergency service for people in danger of falling. They wear an electronic pendant with a button they can press if they fall down and can’t get up. The button calls 911 and dispatches an ambulance to the house. “We pick up the cost of the equipment — the box and the pendant — and we install and maintain it,” Platsky said. “The resident pays $12 per month to Safeco Alarms Company in Kingston, which gives us a reduced rate. Normally it’s $40 to $50 through other companies.”

The Woodstock Rescue Squad will offer its annual EMT training from August 23 to January 17. An open house will be held 11 a.m-3 p.m. Sunday, September 23 for members of the public interested in volunteering or wanting to know more about Woodstock Rescue. For the LifeLine Program, CPR classes, and other inquiries, contact the rescue squad at 845-679-5111.

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