Friday, Apr 12th

SVAC Celebrates Heroes For Saving Lives in Scarsdale

raizenUnusual times call for unusual actions, and that’s just what happened on Wednesday May 20 when the Scarsdale Village Ambulance Corps replaced their usual annual barbeque with a Zoom celebration to honor the paramedics and volunteers who served the community with distinction during the COVID crisis.

SVAC President David Raizen set the scene, saying, “If I told you on the first of the year that 2020 would bring us a pandemic, virtually shut down our economy and have the ambulance corps responding to calls in hazmat attire, you all would have put me in a psych room at White Plains Hospital or thought I was talking about a new movie being filmed in Scarsdale.”

He continued “By the first week of March the world lost its gravity. What seemed like something that could never happen in our bucolic Village-in-a-Park, hit home when one of the first New York State fatalities from the Coronavirus occurred in Scarsdale. Suddenly, this went from being something “hyped” by the news to a disturbing, eye-opening reality. Luckily, we were ready for the “invisible enemy” called Coronavirus because we were prepared from the Ebola scare in late 2014. We had adequate supplies to get us through the beginning of the crisis. The situation for us became reversed; instead of the police protecting us from the enemies, we were now protecting them from the invisible enemy.”

He then turned the camera over to local dignitaries to offer comments:

Scarsdale Village Manager Steve Pappalardo thanked SVAC for saving the lives of their fellow Scarsdale residents and introduced NYS Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul who said, “David – you have been with this group since kindergarten! …. The love of the community triumphs!” She continued, “I have EMT members in my own family – you are a special breed. You could not have foreseen these circumstances. The entire world was watching was happened in this region…You were there on the front line ready to put on those hazmat suits. …Ordinary people in extraordinary times. There are far more people alive than would have been without you. We watched, we learned, we were in awe of what you did. This is a bonding experience that will keep you together for the rest of your lives…. You went to stranger’s homes, not knowing what you would find….What a special evening – please know that what you do is not taken for granted by anyone. Please accept the gratitude of Andrew Cuomo and I and 19 million New Yorkers.”

County Executive George Latimer fessed up, saying “I could never do what you do …. I could not make the decisions you make. We desperately need you to face this crisis. No one knows when they might be the next person. It’s an impressive thing – and made more impressive by the fact that the vast majority won’t and could not do what you do. Thank you on behalf of myself and all the people you represent.”

Congressman Eliot Engel joined in and said, “It’s nice have a community like Scarsdale and to find a way to celebrate.” He said, “Today I had a briefing with Dr. Fauci and seemed positive about a vaccine – thought it would take until spring of next year.” He thanked all the officials on the call and said, “volunteer jobs are not easy jobs.” He cautioned everyone to “wear your mask and we will be back next to celebrate with a picnic.”

Scarsdale Mayor Mark Samwick said, “I got daily updates from David on what was going on throughout this crisis. The word “hero” was used quite a bit. I can’t think of a more appropriate word for SVAC. Starting out prepared, facing dangers you never expected to face – as volunteers. The sacrifice is not just yours – it’s your families as well. We will have stories to tell our grandchildren about the pandemic. Our community is grateful for everything you have done.”

Scarsdale Police Chief Andrew Matturro acknowledged the outstanding work of SVAC and said, ”I have used SVAC as motivation for our police corps. SVAC sets the standard for all of us to follow. They are Scarsdale’s finest and Scarsdale bravest. I want to thank all of you on behalf of the Scarsdale Police Department”

Sports commentator Bruce Beck provided some inspiration. He said “Athletes were the heroes of yesteryear. Today you are the heroes. The true heroes are people like you. You went the extra mile. You never missed a call. The respect I have for you is unparalled. It’s gut wrenching. I lost one of my friends during this pandemic. You care about the people that are sick and hurting. You should be applauded. This is cool stuff. It is an honor to be part of this tonight.”

Beck offered three quotes:

Arthur Ashe: “From what we get we can make a living. What we give can make a life.”

Muhammed Ali; “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

John Wooden Former Coach at UCLA – “Make each day your masterpiece.”

Here are the balance of David Raizen’s full remarks:

"We were placed in the heartbreaking position of leaving sick people at home instead of transporting them to the hospital, as is our standard protocol.Raizen2
For the patients that were sick enough to be transported, it was heart wrenching knowing that some of them might never return home, as we witnessed family members saying goodbye to their loved ones for the last time as the ambulance doors closed. Hospital visits were not allowed.
When we trained to become first responders, we never envisioned triaging patients in a tent outside of White Plains Hospital. The word “triage” came to a have a whole new meaning.

We couldn’t distinguish between nurses we know, do to layers of face shields and PPE. Thankfully, they started writing their names on the outside of their Tyvek suits.

Before the pandemic, after returning from a transport, we would use wipes to clean the ambulance. Now we are decontaminating ambulances by spraying them down with gallons of disinfectant.

A couple of years ago, we fought to service the north end of New Rochelle. Little did we know we bought into Ground Zero.

What is unique about our organization is the family-oriented base of our volunteer membership. They were running out on their families to help other people in need, and then had to worry about whether or not it was safe to return home.

My SOP when returning home would be to strip off my clothes in the basement and put them in the washing machine. Then I would run to take a shower before saying hello to my children.

Many of us established a strong bonding in knowing we were doing the right thing and fighting the good fight to save lives. But our efforts were surrounded by great sadness, seeing so many patients die. First responders who came to help from across the country also passed away. I for one felt horrible for these heroes who came to our aid, and instead were infected and lost their lives.

Aside from doing ambulance calls, there is much work happening “behind the scenes”, including, locating and ordering PPE, conference calls with the NYS Department of Health and the WREMSCO, emails to the membership, and staying on top of and passing along changes in policies.

The New York State Department of Health asked EMS course sponsors to find ways to accelerate training during this pandemic, and SVAC responded. The Corps is offering three EMT certification programs, educating nearly 100 new students, and there remains a long waiting list for future programs. The Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps is both proud and humbled to educate the next generation of New York’s first responders.

The actions of our membership and employees over the last 75 days, were not only heroic on their part, but also on their families and family-life as well. These sacrifices are always prevalent in the EMS field, but never as difficult and personal on so many levels as we all experienced over the past three months. You have to live it to fully understand and appreciate the physical and emotional toll involved. We are volunteers and are giving and generous of our time and humble by nature, but I will say here tonight amongst all our SVAC volunteers, that the Scarsdale residents will never know how much we did for them.

With our volunteers and employees, SVAC rose to the occasion and took care of our community. We did not require any inbound mutual aid, although we did provide it to other communities.

Tonight, the Scarsdale Ambulance Corps has sent you and your family a pizza, as a small token of appreciation, thanking all of you and your families for your tireless work and support during this pandemic. We would also like to thank Amore Pizza for giving us a special discount on the pizza’s that were delivered by members of the ambulance corps.

Please remember, that although we have taken tonight, for National EMS Week, to reflect and recognize our good work and efforts relative to COVID-19 to date, we need to keep our guard up as we prepare for what we hope is not round two.

I would like to end by reciting a favorite quote of mine which is; “We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little that we are now capable of doing anything with nothing.”

David Lawless then presented individual awards to the paramedics and EMT's:

"Who would have guessed that 10 weeks ago the words of our medical director Dr. Erik Larsen would come true - our world, literally the world, will be turned upside down. And the people here answered the call to serve, serve their community and their fellow man.

It is true – we have probably said good-bye to more patients in these few weeks than we would have in a decade. And those few kinds words and care these patients received from you have not gone unnoticed. Coping with this mental anguish will never leave us. We have all learned to cope in our own ways. We in the emergency services often use humor to cope…. I’d be curious what a shrink would say about that. Well, we are going to use some humor anyway this evening to give some special recognition.

As you know our Paramedics have unique personalities and they also come in unique shapes and sizes.

We give the Jolly Giant - - Tyvek suit award to Paramedic Jim Maher. For those who don’t know Jim - his size is intimidating but he is the coolest guy under pressure we know - and he is well on his way to completing nursing school. Who knew you could get paid more as a nurse and get benefits too? Jim, we thank you!

Recognition goes to Paramedic, Richard Blackly – a man of few words but very wise. He helps us navigate the latest protocols and ensures we are all operating on the same page. Richard’s real job is with Westchester County, Department of Emergency Services and we are lucky to have him with us at ScarVAC

We almost lost one of our own last week. While performing CPR this medic just didn’t feel right and went to the Emergency Department as a patient himself. His 12-lead was unremarkable. As it turned out Hamlet Cuelo (Kway-lo) had a significant blockage of his LAD and went under emergency angioplasty and stent procedure. The procedure went perfectly, and we are hoping Hamlet gets back to work real soon.

Many of us have experienced tearful moments during this Pandemic and I want to share just one of these moments

A Paramedic whose personality is large and sometimes comes with a mean bark. When you see this man in white, Tyvek, all you can think of is the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man – and who else would this be - but our own Bob Rizzo. Bob has been in this business longer than most and we are lucky to have him. - Bob was on a confirmed positive COVID call with me. The PT, a female whose vitals were just terrible, it did not look like she was going to make it. – Bob could hear her son from across the street saying good-bye to his mom. There the son stood - with tears in his eyes, knowing that he would never see his mother again. Bob took the time to provide the son with PPE – just so he could hold his mom’s hand one more time. And you could see the glow in her eyes and a mom’s smile after seeing her son - after weeks of isolation. Bob Rizzo - that’s a man with a heart of gold.

We want to recognize our instructors, Caroline Osborne and Kevin Lynch and our administrator, Mary Signorelli, for making our online EMT training program a success.

A hero is a person who is well trained and is faced with an unlikely opportunity. Our volunteers performed courageously throughout the grueling days and nights of this pandemic. Therefore, our volunteer Paramedics and EMT’s - deserve the highest level of recognition. These volunteers could have easily just stayed home – but, instead, they faced this unknown danger when others turned their backs. A very special thank you goes out to our Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps heroes:

EMT, Farley Baker

EMT, Joe Barker

Matt Chesler

EMT, Ellen Gross

A-EMT, Jim Gross

EMT, Marc Guthartz

EMT, Richard Klee

Paramedic, David Lawless

Paramedic, Heli Mendes

EMT, Brendon O’Donoghue

EMT, Joanne Ornstein

Paramedic, David Raizen

EMT, Scott Rubins

EMT, Nyle Sally

EMT student, Jon Thaler

EMT, Lou Vetrone

We are fortunate to say there have been no crew infections reported, which is due to the preparedness, training and leadership at Scarsdale Ambulance. Thanks to the equipment, education and support - without these elements we could not be the heroes’ we all are."

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