They’re always there when we need them.
We call 911. Within minutes, an ambulance appears. Along with police and fire personnel, EMTs — at least 2, often more — take over. Coolly, calmly, compassionately — and very efficiently — they assess the situation. They offer crucial care and reassurance.
It seems like Westport has always had an Emergency Medical Service.
We haven’t. Just 4 decades ago, the situation was very different.
Through the 1970s, Westport ambulances were a semi-private operation, contracted out by the town. Police assisted as first responders.
But the town was growing. Demands increased. The ambulance operators and police were all stretched thin.
Meanwhile, in the mid-1970s, the federal government began certifying Emergency Medical Technicians. Here — and around the country — volunteers took classes. In 1979, a small group incorporated Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service (WVEMS).
An ambulance was purchased. It was stationed in volunteers’ driveways.
Over the years, 2 organizations evolved. Residents don’t always understand the differences — particularly because their names are similar. Both are vital to our town.
Westport Emergency Services is a division of the Police Department. There are 7 paid staff members (including crew chiefs, and 4 paramedics). They handle schedules, training and maintenance of vehicles. Thanks to a contract with Norwalk Hospital, paramedics are on call 24/7.
Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services provides additional ambulance staffs and crew chiefs. They come from a pool of 100 volunteers: business executives, attorneys, housewives, retirees, students and more. All are certified EMTs.
Together, EMS and WVEMS answer 2,400 calls a year.
WVEMS also provides standby coverage for events like football games, road races and craft fairs. If there’s a big crowd, they’re on hand to help.
They offer educational programs for the public, like CPR and “Stop the Bleed.” And they sponsor a youth program. At 14, Westporters can be Emergency Medical Responders, helping out on ambulances. At 16 — following tons of training — they can become EMTs.
Many young EMTs have gone on to careers in medicine. They also gain important life skills, working side by side with adults on an equal basis.
Astonishingly, WVEMS also buys all the town vehicles — 3 ambulances and 2 support “fly cars” — as well as all equipment and supplies. That’s everything from stretchers for lifting patients automatically into the backs of ambulances and child immobilization devices, to band-aids and gauze pads.
Funding comes entirely from donations, via fundraisers and mailings.
Their appeals are low-key. But if you’d like to contribute — particularly if, like nearly everyone who lives or works in Westport, you’ve been helped by WVEMS — click here.
An ambulance can cost $200,000. Equipping it adds another $150,000. “We like to have the best and most up-to-date apparatus,” notes WVEMS president Andrea Harman.
The town provides the building for EMS and WVEMS headquarters (adjacent to the police station), and garages for the ambulances and fly cars.
In honor of this year’s 40th anniversary, WVEMS produced an oral history. Current and former volunteers — including those who were there at the beginning — trace the evolution of this vital service. (Click here to listen.)
It’s fascinating. It’s also a story that few Westporters ever think about — certainly before a 911 call, and even afterward.
After 40 years, it’s time we give them their due.
(For more information on Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services, click here.)