May 29, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
You see the ambulance, the personnel in their blue uniforms, at parades, school events, community events, athletic competitions like SkanRaces — but do you understand who they are and what they do for the community? When the ambulance with SAVES on the side drives by with lights and sirens going, do you understand the EMS responders inside could be going to save a life?
“Unless you’re operating with us, it’s tough to grasp our operations,” said Skaneateles Ambulance Volunteer Emergency Services paramedic Jake Carlson. “You can’t appreciate us until you need us.”
SAVES has 12 full-and part-time employees and 30 volunteers who, with two ambulances, operate out of their building on Fennel Street. They do everything from handling major injury traumas, like car accidents and fires, to responding to calls for heart attacks and back pain, to transporting people to the hospital to simply being a preventative presence at athletic events.
The EMTs who respond to these calls are skilled life-savers who log hours and hours of medical training every year and have numerous technical medical devices at their disposal to do their jobs.
“The ambulance is a little emergency room; these paramedics are paid and professionals, they make you better in the ambulance,” said SAVES volunteer driver George Newton. “They save lives; we didn’t used to save lives; we just transported to the hospital.”
Newton, a retired local dentist, has been a member of SAVES for 45 years, and was a charter member of the organization when it was created in 1967.
“’Scoop and go’ is what we did back then: there was not much we could do, so we’d scoop you up and take you to the hospital. If someone had a heart attack we could give oxygen, or splint a broken arm, but there were no drugs, EKG machines, telemetry, nothing that they have now,” Newton said.
In fact, before SAVES was chartered, there was no ambulance in Skaneateles. People needing emergency medical help were driven to the hospital in the hearse from the local funeral home.
“Now, 45 years later, it’s a really slick operation. Jeff [VanBeveren, executive director] has taken to next level of competence — it all just blows my mind,” Newton said.
What they do
SAVES covers the towns within the Skaneateles school district area, and EMTs and drivers typically work in 12-hour shifts, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“The first thing I do when I get in is check the ambulance for all the necessities: fuel, medicines, batteries for the cardiac monitor. Then I do the checklist sheet we go through at the beginning of every shift,” said Carlson, 25, one of the three full-time SAVES staff. “After that, as any EMS person will tell you, caffeine is a necessity, so you make the coffee. Then you try to get breakfast because you never know when a call will come in.”
In 2011, SAVES responded to 893 Calls, which averages out to 2.5 calls per day.
In the SAVES building, the loudspeaker continually buzzes with incoming calls from all around the area for all local ambulance services. All the SAVES personnel constantly have one ear attuned to the noise. But when the call is specifically for Skaneateles, a plangent buzzer pierces the air, like an alarm clock buzzer magnified times 100.
“Sometimes you can have five calls in one day, and other days you get none,” said Carlson, who has been with SAVES full time for the past five year. “It’s very rewarding, but like any job, this has its ups and downs. You hate to see people in that time of need, but it’s nice to know you’re there. I was born and raised in Skaneateles, and it’s kind of a dream come true to be able to help people I grew up with.”
SAVES driver Kay Barton, who also is a recently-certified EMT and the 2011 SAVES rookie of the year, has been on the job about 18 months. Barton, 68, is a retired PE teacher and coach.
“Ever since I was young, I’ve been taught by my parents to give back to the community when you can,” she said about why she decided to volunteer for SAVES. “When I retired from teaching … I was thinking, what is the best way to give back? I saw an ad that SAVES needed drivers. I have a Harley, I like to drive fast, I figured I could drive an ambulance.”
Since the paramedics all are and must be certified EMTs, the drivers can only help with basic aid, such as lifting people into the ambulance. Barton decided very quickly she wanted to be of greater assistance on the job, so she took the certification courses and passed this past February.
“It’s been very rewarding, more people should do this,” Barton said. “Volunteering is the best way to pay back and keep your community at the level it’s at. If people don’t volunteer and give of themselves, the community will suffer.”
It’s the dearth of volunteers and trained professionals alike, in fact, that the EMS industry as a whole suffers from, said SAVES Executive Director Jeff VanBeveren.
“Not enough people want this job,” he said. “People have recognized that industry-wide, there’s not a lot of avenues to go in EMS. And there’s a high burnout rate. Nursing pays much better, so that’s what a lot of people do, look for other careers.”
Since SAVES is a non-profit organization and relies on donations for all of its subsistence, the other challenge it faces is funding. Every year they have two major fundraising campaigns — ‘Fun in the Sun’ in June and ‘Coming to the Rescue’ in November.
“We’re lucky in that we operate in demographic with a very supportive community and municipality — Skaneateles village and town and the town of Spafford — and we’re very grateful for that,” VanBeveren said.
In fact, May was the five-year anniversary of SAVES moving into its current building and out of the police station behind the old fire department on Fennell Street. The move was an invaluable improvement for SAVES and its ability as an organization to provide an outstanding service to the community, VanBeveren said.
It allowed the SAVES personnel to work 12-hour shifts in a building with the comforts of home: a lounge with games and a television, nice bedrooms with privacy, showers and lockers, and washers and dryers to clean the linens — SAVES had none of these things before. The EMTs and drivers would sleep in a reclining chair and not be able to shower.
“The move really helped us to continue to retain the volunteers we have, and bring in a few new ones,” Vanbeveren said.
The future continues to hold the challenges of staff and funding, and everyone at SAVES is eager for more community participation in their organization.
“We would like to see more people buy raffle tickets and come volunteer,” VanBeveren said. “We also have a great meeting room people can and do use, and offer health lectures and CPR training.”
“I would love for the public to take more of an interest in us and stop down,” Carlson said. “People can always come down and we’ll give them a tour of the ambulance or the building, or a quick rundown of our operations.”
For more information about SAVES visit their website at savesambulance.com or call their non-emergency number, 685-5217.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.