Tag Archives: Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service

Never Too Old To Learn

Westport’s Volunteer Emergency Medical Service offers a variety of courses: first aid, CPR, AED, EMT.

They’re open to anyone interested. You can be as young as kindergarten. Or as old as 102.

The other day, Jean Wells told WVEMS’ Stop the Bleed class. She learned the basics of helping in life-threatening bleeding situations.

Jean Wells, surrounded by Stop the Bleed instructors.

This was not just some whim. During World War II, she served in the Coast Guard. She has volunteered for the American Red Cross and at Norwalk Hospital for over 50 years.

Of course, that’s just half her life.

(To learn more about EMS courses, click here. Hat tip: Simone Neri)

Happy National EMS Week!

Alert “06880” readers know that this is National Police Week. On Thursday, I gave a heartfelt shout-out to all our Westport cops.

Turns out it’s also National EMS Week.

Who knew?

This year’s theme is “EMS Strong: Called to Care.” Westport’s Emergency Medical Service does exactly that — nearly 2,500 times a year, in fact.

We’re lucky to have a fantastic group of emergency medical technicians and responders. Some are paid; others volunteer. But none do it for the money.

They may not hear it often enough. But they deserve a huge thank-you, for their dedication, expertise, efficiency, compassion and care.

I apologize for not getting to this earlier. But — in typical EMS fashion — the Westport crew was too busy working to toot their own (ambulance) horn.

EMS - ambulance exterior

 

Jaime Bairaktaris: “I Want To Help”

When Jaime Bairaktaris moved to Westport, entering Bedford Middle School 4 months into 8th grade, he already knew 2 people: his triplet brothers.

But the 3 boys are very different. So coming into a new school — even from nearby Redding — was a shock.

“Bedford was much more diverse. The kids were more advanced,” Jaime — now a Staples senior — recalls. “They used profanity in a paper, and the teacher called it ‘powerful.'”

His family raised the boys to do things for others. During his first week at Staples, Jaime saw a poster with an ambulance. “That looks like fun,” he thought.

Soon, he was in an Emergency Medical Responder class. That’s become his main activity. Jaime quickly moved up the EMT ranks. He’s just 3 IV sticks away from advanced certification.

Jaime Bairaktaris, in an EMS ambulance. (Photo/Dorrie Harris)

Jaime Bairaktaris, in an EMS ambulance. (Photo/Dorrie Harris)

In July 2014, he was elected to the EMS board. He provides tech support, and as “Mr. Sunshine” sends cards on every member’s birthday. “It’s not a big deal,” he admits. “But it’s a great feeling. Little things add up to something larger.”

Jaime also volunteers as an assistant teacher in Earthplace‘s after-school and summer programs. He loves watching kids grow up — at the same time he helps them get there.

“I love the ambulance. But you only see someone for 15 or 30 minutes,” Jaime says. “Earthplace is a different way to help.”

Jaime Bairaktaris at Earthplace's summer camp. He says it's a tossup which activity the kids like more: mud fights, or hosing off afterward. (Photo/Harris Falk)

Jaime Bairaktaris at Earthplace’s summer camp. He says it’s a tossup which activity the kids like more: mud fights, or hosing off afterward. (Photo/Harris Falk)

One day freshman year, Jaime took a photo of a snapping turtle he found in his yard. His mother suggested sending the shot to WestportNow. Since then, the website has published over 200 of his images. They show beach scenes, Staples High School and sunsets. “You don’t have to go far to see beautiful things,” Jaime says.

Jaime’s next project does involve going far, though.

He’s taken 4 years of Italian at Staples. He loves the class, and his teacher Enia Noonan.

“We talk about everything: language, culture, stereotypes,” Jaime says. “It’s not just how you say hello, but who you say it to, and why.”

Jaime’s mother is Italian (Sicilian and Neapolitan). “My roots are really important to me,” says Jaime. “If you know where you’re from, you know who you are.”

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Naples, he knows, is not the most beautiful city. There is poverty and crime. Jaime has never traveled abroad — but in April he heads there, to volunteer for 2 weeks with an international program for elementary-age children. It’s a safe place for them — in a very rough neighborhood — while their parents work.

He’ll live in a dorm, with volunteers from all over the world. It’s a big commitment — but one he embraces. He takes it eagerly, and with an independent spirit often lacking among teenagers today.

Like this: Jaime drove to and visited colleges on  his own. A trip to the University of Maine was typical: He stopped at Acadia National Park and Boston along the way. He met strangers, and they parted as friends.

“I realize my parents trust me a lot,” he says. “I appreciate that.”

(They found out he’d applied to the Napoli program after he was accepted. Hey, when you’ve got triplets there’s a lot going on at home.)

Right now, Jaime needs help with funds. Donations will pay for program fees, insurance, airfare, and a course in teaching English as a foreign language he hopes to take. Anything extra will be donated to the Naples school, for supplies.

“When people think about service trips, they never consider Italy,” he says. “But the need for service is real. These children are in trouble. I want to help. What better way to end my senior year than to make a difference in their lives?”

And what better way for Westport to help this remarkable, giving Staples student? Every contribution counts: www.gofundme.com/helpnapoli.

 

Who You Gonna Call? EMS Always Responds

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.

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.

WVEMSThere 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.

Approximately 120 others — all unpaid — comprise our Volunteer Emergency Medical Services. They are students, business executives, attorneys, housewives, retirees and more.

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) acts as a "patient" during EMS training.

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 they share with Westport police.

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.

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.

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.