Emergency medical technicians and paramedics serving on Westport’s ambulances have begun vaccinations, as part of the national roll-out to front line medical personnel.
Officials call the vaccines “a sign of hope for local Emergency Medical Service volunteers and staff, after 10 months of treating the community’s COVID-19 patients.”
Yesterday, several Westport EMS members, along with other first responders from the Police and Fire Departments, received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Westport-Weston Health District.
Volunteer EMT Lynette Pineda, Volunteer EMT/Westport Volunteer EMS president Mike Burns, and Paramedic/Westport EMS deputy director Marc Hartog were the first to receive the vaccine at the Westport Weston Health District.
First responders have been authorized by the CDC to go to any certified vaccine clinic in the state. This allows personnel living outside of Westport to find a clinic closer to their home.
However, the ability to administer vaccinations here will make it easier and more efficient for EMS providers to receive their shots.
“We encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as it is available to you. In the meantime we’ll continue to wear masks, wash our hands frequently and practice social distancing, and ask all of you to do the same.” said EMS deputy director Marc Hartog.
Only 1 member of the nearly 75-person Westport Emergency Medical Service has been diagnosed with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. Officials cite strict infection control and PPE protocols for keeping EMS members — and the many patients they treat — safe.
Most of the service’s volunteers and staff members say they’ll get the vaccine as soon as they can.
As I arranged a 4-hour ridealong with Westport’s Emergency Medical Service, officials warned: There are days when absolutely nothing happens. Be prepared to sit.
A mid-April Wednesday was not one of those days.
I had just walked into the EMS hallway, next to police headquarters, when the call came in: a 34-year-old male with chest pains, at a Post Road store.
Deputy director Marc Hartog shepherded me into his fly car. He pulled out of the bay, hit the siren — and I watched in amazement as an impatient Imperial Avenue driver tried to cut him off.
Welcome to Westport, and the unsung world of our EMTs.
Westport EMS has 3 ambulances. They are shiny on the outside — and very impressive inside.
Police and firefighters were first on the scene, as they often are. But the paramedics took over, reassuring their patient while taking a medical history, providing oxygen and placing him on a stretcher.
The ambulance’s interior resembled a boat or plane: well-stocked, with no wasted space. As we headed to Norwalk Hospital, a paid paramedic and 2 volunteers worked efficiently. They checked vital signs, administered nitroglycerin and baby aspirin, communicated with the emergency room, and obtained insurance information.
That saved crucial minutes. When we arrived the patient was transported quickly inside, and hospital staff took over. Total time, from receiving the call to leaving Norwalk for the trip home: 38 minutes.
I learned a lot watching EMS in action. They’ve got a very intriguing story — and it’s one not many Westporters know.
There are actually 2 parts to Westport’s emergency medical services. “EMS” includes 6 paid full-time paramedics who are town employees, and a contracted Norwalk Hospital paramedic on duty 24/7.
The oldest volunteer — Jay Paretzky — is 72. He takes 2 shifts a week, and teaches nearly every CPR class. In the 1st 3 months of this year, he worked 400 hours for WVEMS.
The youngest volunteers are 29 high school students, part of an Explorer post. They undergo the same extensive training as the older volunteers, and perform nearly all the same tasks. (It’s not all adrenaline-inducing. They restock ambulances and write reports too.)
The initial EMT certification class involves 200 hours of classroom and practical work. Re-certification — with another 30 hours of refresher classes, and a state exam — takes place every 3 years. There’s in-service training every month, too.
Rebecca Kamins (left) and Whitney Riggio act as “patients” during EMS training. Learning proper procedures are Christian Renne (left) and Zach Klomberg.
The paramedic program takes 2,000 hours, spread over 18 to 24 months. It includes clinical rotations in hospital settings. Every month, paramedics complete 4 hours of continuing education.
In other words: The guys (and gals) who take care of us know exactly what they’re doing.
Yves Cantin is a WVEMS volunteer. The father of 3 children, he takes a 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift every Wednesday and Friday. He spends many more hours as the organization’s treasurer.
Why does he do it?
“There a good feeling of helping the community,” he says. “It’s rewarding to deliver care that’s needed.”
Cantin has learned that despite Westport’s affluent image, our town is filled with a variety of physical and emotional needs.
He adds, “I’ve made friends through EMS. And I learn something on every call.”
EMS volunteers and paramedics (from left) Larry Kleman, Yves Cantin, Kevin Doherty, Marc Hartog, Rich Baumblatt, Joe Pravder and Aaron Greenspun stand ready, outside the ambulance garage behind the headquarters shared with Westport police.
EMS has 3 ambulances, 3 SUV fly cars, and a fleet of light-and-siren-equipped bicycles for staffing crowd-heavy events. EMS responds to 7 or 8 calls a day — that’s 2500 times a year — from Westport residences, schools, stores, offices, beaches, as well as incidents at our nursing home, Hall-Brooke, and on I-95 and the Merritt.
The town pays for the basics. But — in addition to volunteering their services — WVEMS fundraises for an astonishing array of equipment. They not only buy the ambulances ($190,000 each), but also an expanded $85,000 ambulance bay; the $20,000 stretchers that lift patients automatically into the backs of ambulances, and nearly everything in each ambulance, from child immobilization devices to stair carriers. (With 3 ambulances, they need 3 of everything.)
Monitors and other equipment fill the back of each ambulance.
The net cost to Westport is small indeed. The value is priceless.
“Without our passionate paid staff, and the thousands of hours WVEMS puts in — including fundraising — we couldn’t do this,” Hartog says.
(What fundraising? A low-key annual letter, sent to Westport residents. No hard sell here — even though their service deserves it.)
EMS does not miss much. They rotate ambulances on every call. Reducing wear helps them last 10 years, far more than the national average. Ambulances are plugged in after each use, ensuring that batteries running the many medical devices stay charged.
Hartog — whose first encounter with emergency medicine came at Columbia University, when he took a first-aid class to get out of a gym requirement — says that every day is different.
“Some calls are really routine. The next time though, you have to make a split-second decision. Someone’s life is in your hands.”
EMS deputy director Marc Hartog.
Hartog, Cantin and paramedic Rick Baumblatt — also on duty the day I was there — recall the satisfaction of receiving a letter from a man or woman (or child) who was almost dead.
The family of a skateboarder with major head trauma sends a fruit basket every year. Another family — whose elderly relative was brought back from full cardiac arrest — thanks EMS often for giving them an extra 6 years together.
For the rest of us, there are 2 things we can do for our emergency medical staff.
We can say “thank you” whenever we see them.
And when that fundraising letter comes, we can give generously to EMS.
Because — paid or volunteer — they give very generously to us.
Every once in a while, patients peers at Westport EMT Marc Hartog strangely.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” they ask.
Usually they do — and it has nothing to do with an ambulance gurney. They recognize Hartog from his community theater work. The veteran medic is also a talented actor. It’s an incongruous pairing — but he’s passionate about both parts of his life.
Hartog — a certified paramedic — has a master’s degree in public administration. He’s directed St. Clare’s Hospital’s EMS department, and its emergency room.
He got married in 1990, moved to Connecticut, and commuted to New York. But when a job opened up with Westport Emergency Medical Service he leaped at the chance to spend more time with his family. He became a paramedic crew chief, and now serves as coordinator.
Haven't I seen you somewhere? Marc Hartog the actor...
All along, Hartog was a theater buff. In high school he worked the back end — tech, lighting, running crew — and occasionally acted. He continued his involvement in college.
“In New York there’s not a lot of work if you’re not a professional,” he notes. His wife is an actress too, but not until they moved to Connecticut did they discover local theater.
Hartog has performed often with the Westport Community Theater. He’s also worked in Wilton, New Canaan, Darien, Stamford and Milford. He’s taken on many roles, in everything from murder mysteries and dramas to comedies.
He appreciates “the great bunch of people” who comprise the community theater world. And, he admits, getting a response from an audience is “a huge boost.”
Despite vast differences, Hartog sees similarities between theater and emergency medicine. “You find yourself in a lot of different situations in EMS,” he says. “You have to improvise, and really think on your feet.”
...and Marc Hartog the EMT.
In community theater as in EMS, Hartog interacts with people he doesn’t know. Developing quick rapport and trust with patients is akin to meeting a new cast, and learning to work together.
Hartog also does plenty of public speaking and teaching for EMS. His ease in front of a crowd comes from his experience on stage.
Over the next 3 weekends Hartog performs in the Darien Arts Center’s “Almost, Maine.” The romantic comedy is a series of vignettes, with 9 actors playing 19 roles.
As usual, a few fellow EMTs may see the show.
Then there are the theatergoers who watch Hartog perform, not knowing they’ll see him again in his white EMS uniform.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” he says. “And if they’re able to remember me from a show, then I know it’s not the most serious medical call.”
(“Almost, Maine” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26, at 8 p.m.; there are Sunday matinees March 13 and 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online at www.arts.darien.org, or by phone at 203-655-5414.)
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