Norvelt EMS aims to refine aid efforts in 2014
The leaders of Norvelt EMS/Land Transport want the public to know how serious they are when it comes to providing care to those they are duty-bound to serve.
As an example of such dedication, the organization recently became the first agency of its kind in Westmoreland County to be certified in the Pennsylvania Emergency Health Services Council's pediatric voluntary recognition program.
“We're trying to give our people a higher standard of care anyhow, so there won't be any change in that ... it's just sort of an official step we've taken as an agency,” said Josh Janos, chief of the agency established in 1988, which remains one of only two volunteer EMS services in the county, along with Kecksburg Rescue and EMS.
The pediatric program is operated under the council's “EMS for Children” project.
The program calls for child abuse history clearances, pediatric-specific continuing education and pediatric community outreach initiatives, said Tom Winkler, director of the Mechanicsburg-based project.
“Norvelt EMS was the first EMS agency in Westmoreland County to be recognized under the program,” said Winkler, adding that the Penn Township Ambulance Association has since become the second county agency to earn such status.
After 74,350 children were transported via ambulance in Pennsylvania in 2012, the program was created by project officials, in partnership with the state department of health's bureau of emergency medical services, according to the council's website, paemsc.org.
Its goal is to aid EMS agencies whose officials wish to improve their capabilities to deliver care to pediatrics, the site states, and participation in the program is entirely voluntary.
Norvelt EMS, which has 32 volunteers, is recognized at the program's basic level, Winkler said, which means that the organization's ambulances carry supplemental pediatric equipment that goes above and beyond the current state department of health requirements.
“Currently, there are 55 EMS agencies statewide recognized, with a handful of others working towards certification,” Winkler said.
Janos, along with past Norvelt EMS president Casey Bromke and Zach Gergas, the agency's recently appointed president for 2014, have worked tirelessly in the past year to develop such ways of improving the organization's ability to respond to emergencies, and provide top-quality services to those residing in the Mt. Pleasant Township village surrounding areas.
“We just want to address to the public that we are working on becoming better,” said Bromke, 30, a state-certified emergency medical technician, a firefighter for Youngwood Volunteer Fire Department and a general laborer for Bridgestone/Firestone Complete Auto Care in Monroeville.
Agency takes several blows to reputation
Janos admits that 2013 was largely a year of challenges for Norvelt EMS/Land Transport.
“We had a rough year,” said Janos, a professionally licensed emergency medical technician who assumed the post of chief in fall 2012 after serving as assistant chief since 2006.
“Everyone who came in was new to management, and we learned more in one year that some service directors learn in a lifetime because of the trouble we had.”
In April, state police investigated the theft of painkillers from the local agency.
At the time, officials there reported morphine and Fentanyl patches were stolen from a refill kit stored at the building on Main Street.
The kits are used to restock supplies carried by the organization's two ambulances.
Morphine and Fentanyl are both prescribed to treat severe pain.
Trooper Steve Limani said at the time that, since the kits were locked and stored in a secure building, only someone with access to the building could have taken them.
Police have not identified a suspect in connection to the incident.
Since it happened, Norvelt EMS officials have “beefed up” security there by relocking and rekeying the building, Janos said.
“We've also integrated an independent camera security system throughout the building,” he said.
In addition, agency officials installed an electronic safe for spare medication that can only be accessed by Parker Foster, the organization's first assistant chief and advanced life support/paramedic coordinator, Janos said.
“We also spent $1,200 on two lock boxes, one for each ambulance, that are pretty much unbreakable,” he said. “Those are under double lock and key, and only paramedics have keys for them.”
On the heels of that incident, Norvelt EMS was prohibited for roughly two weeks in October from responding to emergency calls because its state license had not been renewed.
Over that time, medical emergencies in the Norvelt area were handled by staff at Kecksburg Rescue and EMS and Mt. Pleasant Medic 10.
Janos said he worked “hand-in-hand” with officials at both the county and state levels to restore service.
“We were granted a six-month, provisional license to April, and we've since (underwent) and passed a state (Department of Health) inspection in January,” he said. “We had zero deficiencies. Our inspector was very impressed, and we were excited, because we passed (in spite of) the issues that occurred.”
In March, the agency will undergo a second state inspection, which involves a thorough examination of its ambulances and medications in stock, Janos said.
“We're ready for that, and if we pass that, we'll be granted a three-year license on April 1,” he said.
Lastly, a professional audit of the agency's financial records for an unspecified period of time is ongoing.
The probe involves the office of county District Attorney John Peck.
Janos and other Norvelt EMS/Land Transport officials declined to comment on the matter, still under investigation.
Service seeks to restore residents' faith
Despite the challenges of 2013 and the audit, Janos said Norvelt EMS officials and leadership are striving to make this year and future ones successful when it comes their primary goal — to providing care to those in need.
Proof of such progress comes with hard numbers.
Regarding emergency response, Janos said, the agency went from 220 calls answered in 2012 to 333 in 2013.
“So we answered roughly 100 more calls,” he said. “I attribute that to our staff. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we have at least one EMT at the station with an ambulance. Then we supplement the ambulance with guys from home.”
And while there were 360 total emergencies in the Norvelt EMS coverage area last year, the remainder was answered by officials of Mt. Pleasant Medic 10, Janos said.
In January, Medic 10 reached an official pact with Norvelt and Kecksburg EMS by which officials of the borough's emergency response unit pledged to continue to respond to medical calls in those areas when needed.
“The paramedics that are helping us are phenomenal, and the three (agencies) are working together to help one another,” Janos said. “It doesn't matter what color the ambulance is; what's important that people are getting one in their time of need.”
Norvelt EMS in bringing back the agency's subscription drive in 2013 for the first time in five years, Janos said.
The drive raised $14,000 in donations and subscription fees, Bromke said.
That amount was devoted to meeting the costs of the organization's emergency and non-emergency response and transport efforts for subscribers whose medical insurance didn't pay 100 percent of the bill, he said.
“Actually, that was the highest total we've ever gotten on a subscription drive,” Janos said.
The 2014 drive is set to start in March, Bromke said.
“I feel since it was a success last year, we're going to do it again this year in hopes of a better response,” he said.
In December, the agency also held its second annual “fill the ambulance” toy drive for the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program.
Advances to operations, leadership are made
Bromke recently helped re-establish and appoint members to agency committees to address various organizational duties, including membership, public relations, fund drive and fundraising, bylaws and policies and training, he said.
Along with Janos, Foster and Gergas, who also serves as the agency's captain, other 2014 line officers include vice president Josh Hodgkiss, secretary Nina Stewart, and treasurer Craig Neely, who also serves as the organization's second assistant chief.
“We've acquired new members, we're offering better training, and we have the staffing better organized,” Bromke said. “I think that's pretty impressive for an all-volunteer department.”
Since late 2012, the number of members serving in the organization has grown to its current number from what was once a staff of seven EMTs and one paramedic, Janos said.
“Now we have 23 EMTs and nine paramedics and all my EMTs are very young,” he said. “Twenty-two out of 23 EMTs actually work on an ambulance, and eight out of nine paramedics actually work on ambulances as professionals somewhere. The other EMT is a full-time nursing student, and the paramedic is a police officer.”
In particular, Janos lauded the work of Gergas, a 19-year-old Mt. Pleasant resident, in leading the agency as president in 2014.
Gergas was welcomed to the agency after successfully completing a four-month training course to become a certified EMT at Westmoreland County Community College near Youngwood.
“Zach is a young president, but he is doing very well,” Janos said.
Gergas said it's important for members of both sides of the operation, those who answer calls and those who deal with business and order, to work together.
“It's fundamental for each side to do their jobs, thoroughly and effectively, to accomplish our goals,” he said.
The agency has also partnered with Norvelt Volunteer Fire Department in which the members of the two groups cross-train, he said.
“We also help them at fire scenes,” Janos said. “We felt we weren't as good of partners before, and now we're definitely moving in the right direction.”
The public can keep track of the agency's evolving status via its website, norveltems.org, and its new Facebook page, both of which are updated regularly, or by just approaching its officials personally, Janos said.
“Even after our incidents, a lot of people know me, so when I walk through the community ... if anybody ever has a question, I'm always available,” he said. “We have nothing to hide.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.