Ridgewood Ambulance Corps Fights To Keep Saving Lives
Volunteers Struggle With Economic Climate
While the effort of saving lives never gets any easier for the crew at the Ridgewood Volunteer Ambulance Corps, their members say there are few experiences as fulfilling as delivering babies on an elevator or providing medical attention to a patient in cardiac arrest whose life is in danger.
Emergency Medical Technicians Michael Ansbasch and Angel Calderon are among the handful of active staff members that are keeping the operation afloat in light of a dormant economy that has significantly reduced the amount of contributing volunteers.
In past years, recounted Ansbasch, it was much easier to recruit personnel to work two to six-hour shifts twice a month due the opportunity RVAC offered future doctors and paramedics to partake in an EMT course free of charge.
“Before it was easier. People had the attitude that volunteerism is important; it gave them a feeling of doing good things for the community, but now it’s very hard to entice people to do that,” reflected the 27-year ambulance corps veteran. “It’s the economics, it’s the recession—it’s all that. People are now working two or three jobs to survive. We had members that were working 60, 70 hours a week, and it hurts.”
Located at 503 Onderdonk Ave., the 35-year-old volunteer ambulance service is currently down to 10 active duty members, which Ansbasch hopes will increase to about 30 with the help of fund-raisers, including a Nov 10. anniversary dinner at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach.
Although it has moved five times over the past thirty or so years, RVAC continues to assist Emergency Medical Services teams in Bushwick, West Maspeth and Ridgewood on all types of calls with the goal of getting needy patients to hospitals in the shortest amount of time possible.
Ansbasch mentioned the need for additional dispatchers, but noted the even bigger demand for actual EMT’s that are fully capable of working in the organization’s van and properly performing procedures.
“I’ll observe them in an ambulance … just because they passed an EMT course, doesn’t mean that they’re qualified to ride. The classroom is one thing; when you get on the streets it’s different,” he said while noting how beginners will often freeze up or even vomit at the first sight of blood.
The ambulance corps’ first priority is local community members, whose direct calls take precedence over all other assignments.
But where RVAC really comes in handy is as a supplement or “last resort” alternative to EMS is during major catastrophes that require the presence of multiple ambulance trucks that are unable to tend to their regular emergency calls.
During the hectic periods of backto back calls, Calderon usually preaches composure under fire to his ambulance partners.
“We’ll work with them slowly. We make them tell us what they can do. They can do just vitals, patient assessments and that’s it. If they learn everything, then they’ll have it down pat,” noted the Bushwick native, who along with Ansbasch works at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.
Determining the severity of a case is one of the key aspects of responding to emergencies, according to the dynamic duo. If a patient has suffered a heart attack or is in cardiac arrest, an EMT’s primary concern would be to get that individual to the nearest hospital regardless of any specials requests made by their family members.
Recording a patient’s medical history plays a vital role in deciding how important it is to get the person to the nearest facility.
But without enough people to answer phones, report emergencies or go out on truck duty, many phone calls go unanswered.
Calderon pointed to large-scale changes in the neighborhood as another reason for the lack of volunteer support.
He added: “People don’t know about us like they used to. They ask ‘why would I want to volunteer?’ You try to tell them that the benefit is when you save a life, it feels more gratifying than if you were getting paid for it.”
Both unmarried men acknowledged that working for their operation is probably best suited for young and single adults.
Calderon came on board straight out of college about 15 years ago, while fellow Bushwick native, Ansbasch, first began working for the ambulance corps from the early 80s through 2004, and just recently came back to RVAC last year.
Even though the two have an insatiable passion for stabilizing and transporting ailing patients, Ansbasch wished that more nurses get some experience in the ambulance corps to help then better understand how volunteers work on their end.
While the hardened EMT has seen his share of time-sensitive, emergency cases during his travels, he still ranks motorcycle accidents as the toughest jobs to deal with due to the lack of protection offered to the cyclist.
“The rider’s protecting the bike … it’s not like driving a car,” reasoned Ansbauch. “I saw one guy get thrown 25 feet by his bike. I would never ride a bike after some of the stuff I’ve seen.”
When asked what his most memorable job was through the years, he answered that he once had to stabilize a woman who had been thrown out of a three-story window by her husband.
The force with which she was pushed, he said, forced her body to break through a garage roof. But the victim amazingly survived the fall despite bleeding from head to toe and suffering several broken bones.
Calderon, on the other hand, remembered a motorcycle accident that had badly dislocated a man’s foot to the point where it was parallel to his ear.
“I was in such shock, but I was able to reposition his foot,” he reported.
Ansbasch concluded that he’s learned how to use common sense and always think on his feet when performing his duties.
“Not every heart attack’s the same. If you have a 400-pound person who just had a heart attack, you have to think of a way of getting him out,” said the longtime volunteer.
To find out more information on the Ridgewood Ambulance Corps’ upcoming anniversary dinner, call 1-718-386-7230 or visit www.ridgewoodvac.org.
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