June 10, 2008

Greece ambulance corps volunteers use latest techniques and equipment

Greece volunteers use the latest techniques and equipment

Meaghan M. McDermott
Staff writer

GREECE — Outside the Greece Volunteer Ambulance headquarters on Long Pond Road, a sign notes that ambulance service is "one of the last few professions that makes house calls."

Indeed, emergency medical technicians and paramedics from GVA made 4,200 house calls last year. In white shirts and blue slacks, the medical professionals treated injuries both mundane and major, from bumps and bruises suffered in falls to strokes and other dire emergencies.

"Anything from cardiac arrest to a toothache," said Mike Shannon, a volunteer for 13 years and director of operations for the past three years.

Over its 49-year history, tens of thousands of Greece residents have been treated, transported and comforted by the dedicated GVA.

Chartered in 1958 with one vehicle, Greece Volunteer Ambulance transported its first patient in 1959. At one time, the corps had 167 volunteers, both medics and paramedics. Now there are 75 active volunteer members, 12 full-time employees and 22 part-timers providing 24-hour emergency service seven days a week.

The fleet has expanded to five ambulances and two advanced life-support vehicles to provide service to residents living in the North Greece and Lakeshore fire districts.

The group does not levy taxes, and is entirely supported through third-party billing of insurance companies and co-pays.

"I love it," said William Joyce, a 37-year member of the ambulance corps and the organization's director for the past eight years. Joyce, an EMT, started with the corps when all the training you needed was a 20-hour course in advanced first aid.

Now, training requirements range from more than 100 hours required to become a basic EMT to more than 1,200 hours of training required to become a paramedic.

"Emergency medical services are really maturing because the technology is changing," Joyce said.

Over the years — during which Joyce has personally delivered 19 babies, including two from the same mom, three years apart — the scope and importance of emergency medical service has changed dramatically. When he started out, riding in ambulances that were more akin to Cadillac hearses, the main objective was to pick the patient up and get him to the hospital as fast as possible.

Now, there are specialized ambulance rigs outfitted with medications, defibrillators, EKG monitors, trauma supplies and much more.

EMTs and paramedics not only take patients to the hospital, but they also now provide a depth of medical care unheard of less than 20 years ago, said Joyce.

For Joyce, the best part of the job is meeting people, talking with people and helping people.

"If you can give back to your community, even just a little bit, it makes all the difference," said Joyce, who isn't shy about talking about the emotional toll that responding to terrible crashes, illnesses, accidents and medical emergencies can take.

"But I tell all the guys to treat each patient on their stretcher just like they're somebody in your family that you love," he said. Medical emergencies are scary and patients are often frightened, confused and in pain. A good EMT or paramedic not only dispenses medical care, but also compassion. "You need to get right down and talk to people. We've actually laid down in the street next to a kid hit by a car. It's less scary if you get to their level."

Greece Volunteer Ambulance is always seeking more volunteers. Joyce said while the work is tough, the rewards are great.

"A group like this shows volunteerism is still alive. It may be diminishing, but it is still alive," he said.