Welcome faces in a crisis: Ambulance corps welcomes five

The ranks of the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps swelled by five when four new emergency medical technicians and one emergency medical responder were voted in on Wednesday, April 17.

The new EMTs are Diane McDermott, Jacqueline Levene, Nancy Capelle, and Jorge Ignarra. Max Maultz is the new EMR. All are from Wilton save Mr. Ignarra, who lives just over the town line in Norwalk.

All recently completed intensive classroom and practical training prior to passing their state certification tests. All had different reasons for taking the same path, which they shared with The Bulletin last Wednesday evening.

For Ms. Levene, who is a 2007 Wilton High School graduate, this is something she has always wanted to do. She said she would “feel that compulsion” whenever she saw an accident.

“Becoming an EMT helps you be prepared,” she said.

She is interested in pursuing a career in medicine, and having graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011 she is now studying for the MCATS, a standardized test to enter medical school.

Ms. McDermott is the mother of two teenage sons who has sat on the sidelines watching them sustain “injuries nonstop” as they played football and lacrosse. But it was an incident involving a friend that sealed the deal.

“A friend recently had a massive heart attack swimming,” she recalled. “If it wasn’t for the lifeguard having a defibrillator … There’s no excuse not to do this.”

Mr. Ignarra is making a comeback of sorts, having served as a combat EMT in the Air Force. His day job is as a management consultant and he is friends with Chris Gardner of the ambulance corps.

“Chris impressed upon me the values of the ambulance corps,” he said. “He is a man of integrity who tells the truth.” It didn’t hurt that Mr. Ignarra’s wife encouraged him to pursue this line of volunteer work.

As a junior at Wilton High School, Max is the youngest of the new recruits. As an EMR he can do everything an EMT can do except administer drugs.

With not much to do last summer, he volunteered at a hospital where his friend’s mother works.

“I thought it might be interesting to feel out the medical field,” he said. He also received encouragement from his father.

“My grandma is 90 and has had lots of medical problems,” he said. “She is a ‘frequent flyer’ to the hospital. The paramedics show up night or day.” He, too, is seriously considering a career in medicine.

Ms. Capelle has been a strong supporter of the ambulance corps since her own experience of suffering a heart attack at the age of 40 in 2011.

She preferred to discuss what it takes to become an EMT, “how much work it is and you really have to have a passion to get through the course work and practical.”

Ms. Capelle, Ms. Levene and Mr. Ignarra all studied together, taking a class at Norwalk Community College taught by Harry A. Downs III, a Norwalk Hospital paramedic. He also conducts training sessions for the Wilton Fire Department.

Ms. McDermott studied at Danbury Hospital, and Max did his training with Mr. Gardner at the Wilton Ambulance Corps.

The EMT program teaches first aid, patient assessments, extrication, communication, and other basic concepts. Hazmat training and terrorism awareness are also part of the program. In addition to a minimum 145 hours of classroom work, all NCC students must complete EMS clinical time at Norwalk Hospital and practice their skills outside of class.

By the end of the course, students must demonstrate a number of skills, including the ability to assess and manage medical and trauma patients, manage a cardiac arrest patient and use an automated external defibrillator, manage an apnea patient, succeed at spinal immobilization, properly tend to fractures and dislocated joints, control bleeding, deal with shock, and administer oxygen.

The test is not just a demonstration of skills.

“They give you a scenario to test your critical thinking skills,” Mr. Ignarra said. “And they time you as well.”

In addition to the practical test, EMT candidates must pass a “written” test that is actually given on a computer.

Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps requires volunteers to be on call no fewer than 24 hours per month, including at least one 12-hour overnight shift per month. Members also answer calls on a “neighborhood-response” basis.

There are also two required evening business and training sessions per month.

Ambulance corps member A.J. Langer explained that “every new EMT starts off as an apprentice,” riding with a crew chief and driver to get experience and learn how things are done. Depending on the type of calls that come in, that apprenticeship can last from three to six months.

Some of the more practical skills to be learned include using a stair chair and “patching,” which is calling ahead from the ambulance to the emergency room accurately describing the patient’s condition.

“It’s not required by the state, but Harry arranged for us to go on some ride-alongs,” Ms. Levene said of her class with Mr. Downs. “I loved that part, but that’s the deal breaker for some people.”

Indeed, the attrition rate in EMT training is great. The Norwalk Community College class she and Ms. Capelle and Mr. Ignarra were part of began with 26 students. Only 12 took the final exam.

But at the end of the hard work, there is a definite payoff, they said.

“We are expanding out in a way to the community,” Ms. Levene said. “We are going to a bad situation and making it better.”

Along with the first responders — fire and police — “we are the cavalry,” Ms. Langer said.

“It’s being able to do something,” Max said of coming to a crisis situation. “It’s such an empowering feeling to be able to do something.”

“The calls I went to,” Ms. Levene said, “there are calls where the family is outside because they don’t want to be with a family member who is seizing.”

Ms. Capelle recalled an incident that occurred while she was on vacation skiing with her family during a break from class. A man fell and the ski center did not have any emergency equipment.

“I was the only one there who could help him,” she said, explaining how she splinted his arm with the only materials at hand, a cardboard box and plastic bags.

She agreed with the feeling of empowerment, saying, “You’re not afraid to be in bad situations anymore. That’s what this is all about.”

“In a major trauma you have just minutes to get there, size up the situation and get the patient to the hospital,” Ms. Langer said.

“In medicine they talk about the golden hour,” Mr. Ignarra said. “We have the platinum 10 minutes to get the patient stabilized, in the rig and on the way.”

Information: wiltonambulance.org.