Dedication, commitment shine at STAS
Sewickley Township Community Ambulance Service has 25 paid and 20 volunteer EMT and paramedics who are the ones to respond if a resident within the 30 square miles of the township and Madison calls 911 for a medical emergency.
On Nov. 21, I spent the evening with the staff to learn more about the work they do and the members themselves.
“We have a tight-knit group here,” said Community Outreach Supervisor and EMT George Neat. “Everyone gets along really well and we have a lot of fun together.” Including non-emergency transports, the service responds to about 3,000 calls per year. My night at the 2 Medic St. station in Herminie unfolded as follows:
3:55 p.m. – I arrived early for my 4 p.m. to midnight shift and it was a good thing I did. The siren blared and I hopped in the response vehicle with Neat to follow the ambulance to a brush fire on Mars Hill Road. Neat says crews usually provide non-emergency support for brush fires. By 4:02 p.m. the ambulance is canceled from dispatch, but we stick around to make sure no one gets injured.
4:13 p.m. – The scene is cleared and we return to the station, where I meet paramedic Danny Keslar of Greensburg, Emergency Medical Technician Holly Sinnamond, a 17-year-old junior member, and EMT Patrick Richards of North Huntingdon. Neat says about four to five members continuously staff the station. Emergency Medical Technicians are trained in basic life support, while paramedics are trained in advanced life support.
4:49 p.m. – Keslar and Sinnamond take me on a “tour” of one of the service's three ambulances. Each of the compartments holds different types of medical supplies, including a stuffed animal to help calm young patients who might be nervous. Keslar explains the types of emergency medicine paramedics can perform, including delivering oxygen, nitrous oxide or medications for pain.
5:26 p.m. – Keslar shows me the cardiac monitor and takes my oxygen level, blood pressure and gives me a read-out of my heart. Thankfully, I'm at a healthy 100 percent oxygen level (should normally read between 90 and 100) through the reader on my index finger and 109/73 blood pressure. He prints an earlier patient's read-out and compares it to mine, explaining how up to 12 leads can be placed throughout the body to get an accurate picture of different parts of the heart. “On an EKG, you can see when it's getting worse and that's when you have to drive, drive, drive faster,” he says. “EMS has saved thousands of lives with the introduction of the 12-leads into the system because we're not taking the patient to just any hospital.” Helicopters are used much more often now in order to better care for emergencies like strokes, which only have a three-hour timeframe to reverse any side-effects. “The quicker you can get them to the closer hospital that can best treat them, the better chance of survival they have,” Keslar says. The ambulance can reach a stroke center in 40 minutes by ground, but a helicopter only takes 15 minutes in the air.
7:14 p.m. – After chowing down on most of the pizza and watching TV for a while, no calls have come in. Keslar and the others have the younger EMTs, Sinnamond and Weaver, practice some skills like immobilizing a patient on a backboard from a laying and standing position. An accident victim sometimes needs to be mobilized even if they have gotten out and begun walking, but could still be injured. The most important part is stabilizing a patient's neck, Keslar says. “Any movement of the spine, wherever there could be the possibility of injury, could be paralyzing from the neck down or waist down,” he says. Then, Weaver practices an arm splint on Sinnamond before Keslar acts as a patient needing a leg splint. “Ow, my leg!” Keslar cries as a part of the exercise.
8:01 p.m. – Still no calls, so the ambulance crew asks yours truly to act as a patient during a practice scenario. Richards says he often uses a scenario involving an asthmatic patient in the perfume section of a department store to teach students to remove patients from a situation contributing to the emergency. At 8:21 p.m., Sinnamond places an oxygen mask on my face while Weaver asks my medical history. “Environmental issues really impact your patient,” Richards says after the pair realize I should be moved away from the perfumes. “Get her outside, cold air is great for breathing.”
9:03 p.m. – Paramedic calls to say he has a family emergency and needs a replacement for the midnight 8 a.m. shift. Keslar decides to stay until then, even though he was planning on leaving at midnight. “We'll figure it out, we always do,” Neat says. At 9:17 p.m., he gets a call from paramedic John Coffey that he will come in to relieve Keslar instead.
9:20 p.m. – A phone call comes in asking for a transfer from the Forbes Regional emergency room to Woodhaven Care Center in Monroeville.
9:21 p.m. – Moments after hanging up the phone, a call comes in for an elderly patient with a diabetic emergency in Hutchinson. Neat instructs Weaver and Richards to take the transfer while Keslar and Neat go to the scene.
9:29 p.m. – The ambulance arrives at the Hutchinson home with support from Hutchinson Volunteer Fire Department quick attack truck already there. Neat and Keslar go into the house and asses the patient before bringing her out on a stretcher and preparing to transport her to Excela Westmoreland Hospital. Fire Captain Bill Dull, who is also a volunteer with the ambulance service, assists at the scene. “Any time the ambulance goes out, we assist,” he says. “We have a pretty good working relationship with the ambulance service.” With the EMS located within the township, it helps when working an emergency to be familiar with each other, he says. “It's definitely a good thing for us.”
10:45 p.m. – Both ambulances return back to the station. The crew discusses the call and Keslar completes paperwork. Neat explains that firefighters are often trained in basic first aid and CPR, which they can perform as soon as they arrive at the scene of an emergency. “It makes it nice for us because we can have them do the CPR while we're doing the more advanced (medical procedures),” he says.
11:27 p.m. – EMT Frank Fraicola of Herminie arrives to replace Weaver who has gone home and Sinnamond, who can only work until midnight because she is under 18. A member since 1982, Fraicola makes himself a cup of coffee then reminisces about how the ambulance service has changed over the years, showing off a photo of a vintage ambulance, which was in use when he joined.
11:44 p.m. – Coffey, who has worked with the ambulance service for 16 years, and his wife Melissa, a volunteer EMT for three years, arrive as Keslar's relief. Richards, Keslar and Neat all prepare to leave for the end of the night.
12:02 a.m. – Ending his shift for the night as I prepare to leave, Richards waits for his SUV to warm up and pulls out of the lot in front of the station, his headlights shining across the blue Star of Life symbol on the front of the building before heading home down Medic Street.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-836-6660 .