Story by Sara Paul
Warwick EMT Jim Mehling remembers a particularly moving moment on the job a few years back. An older gentleman behaving oddly prompted his family to call the Warwick EMS. Jim and his team arrived on the scene, along with the paramedics. Though staff tried to speak with the elderly man, they were not making any progress. Jim asked if he could have a try.
The veteran volunteer EMS member and long-time Warwick resident looked around and spotted a WW II Veteran cap. He immediately shifted the focus off of the medical issue and onto the man’s military accomplishments. A connection was made, a trust was formed, and Jim was able to get the situation well under control. The Army Air Corps Vet was transported to Orange Regional Medical Center where he was treated for a mild stroke.
“You have to be willing to think outside the box because things are not how they look in the textbooks,” notes Jim, an EMS member for 12 years.
“It’s about seeing the bigger picture, seeing people as individuals, and finding a way to communicate. It’s not just about the medical side. It’s the human side that’s equally important,” Jim said.
While the Warwick EMS team, located at Station No. 1 on South St. Extension, has only 60 active members, these are the selfless individuals who commit to training, serving, and responding with zero pay when the Warwick community needs them. The Warwick EMS covers the Village of Warwick and also assists in the Village of Florida at Station No. 2 on North Main St. There are also about 30 Junior Corps members, all high school age.
Warwick EMS will celebrate 78 years of service in 2020, as the second oldest operating agency in NYS. While a portion of the Town of Warwick taxes covers emergency services, EMS relies heavily on fundraising, memorial donations, and other monetary gifts. Over the last few years they have also started billing insurance companies, never an individual, for transport fees.
An Increase in Calls
Chris Kane, EMS president and five-year member reports that there are days when the department can receive between five and eight calls, sometimes back-to-back and sometimes even at the same time.
“It can get really busy, and we need more manpower,” Chris said.
Jim, a Warwick resident for 28 years, says some of the reasons for the increase are an increasing population, an aging population, individuals not taking care of themselves or monitoring current health problems, various health issues, and a significant number of transports from senior facilities to hospitals.
Station No. 1 currently houses five vehicles, including three rigs, one rehabilitation bus and one Multiple Casualty Incident (MCI) vehicle, as well as multiple bicycles utilized during Applefest.
A Selfless, Comforting Job
“It’s so important that we can provide a service to our friends and neighbors, and it’s not just about fixing booboos. We are happy to help people through a difficult situation, and let them know there is a light at end of the tunnel,” smiles Jim, who seems to have a natural comedic talent.
“I’m a big believer in humor, because the horrible stuff is present, and we have to bring some levity to the situation,” noted Jim, who comes from a family of first responders, including his sister, Sandy Mehling.
“It’s important to cut the tension and balance out the panic. Some light-hearted laughter gets people to breathe and calm down and allows us to get some medical history. We want to let them know that we care a great deal,” said Sandy, an EMT, three-year Warwick EMS member and Warwick resident for six years.
A Dire Need for Volunteers
“It’s gotten to a point where we need help. Yes, volunteering is really tough, but this is a vital service to the community,” commented Jim, explaining that when volunteer corps close, towns must pay an Advanced Life Support (ALS) agency to respond to emergency calls.
“This is a higher cost for the town, but more importantly its stretching ALS agencies even thinner, so that often we don’t have ALS on hand to support us,” said Jim, noting that the EMS volunteers are Basic Life Support (BLS) professionals, and are, therefore guided in their treatment options based on NYS protocol.
“It’s a horrible feeling to know that a patient needs assistance, and we can’t do more. We can only do what we are allowed to do,” Sandy noted.
Warwick EMS volunteers are required to commit to four 12-hour shifts per month, ideally two weekday and two weekend shifts, and attend first aid and CPR courses, held one night each. New members are paired with senior members in the department’s strong mentoring and orientation program.
“Some people say they can’t handle the sight of blood or they are afraid of messing up, but if you are properly trained, that training takes over,” Jim assures, reiterating that, “We are a solid group of individuals who believe in each other and have each other’s backs.”
There is also a Ride-A-Long program in which people can spend some time with EMS members on actual calls, chatting over coffee, and getting to experience what the job entails.
“Ride-A-Long is great because people can see for themselves if it’s something they would enjoy doing. They can come whenever it’s convenient for them, and we really encourage interested parties to give it a try,” Chris noted.
Anyone interested in the Ride-A-Long program, can call Station No. 1 at 986-4100 and leave a voicemail.
Consistent, Continuing Education
Besides renewing certifications annually, there are also monthly trainings for EMS members. Continuing Medical Education (CME) seminars are held regularly.
“You never stop learning when you’re doing this. Things are constantly being upgraded, and they are always finding better ways to deal with different situations,” Jim commented, explaining that recently, for example, there is a focus on mass casualty incidents and active shooter training.
Beyond ambulance corps comradery, EMS members also benefit from the professionalism and collaboration with skilled hospital staff as well as the Warwick Fire and Police Departments.
Educating the Public
One of the most important things residents can do to help EMS members as well as themselves, according to Jim and Sandy, is to post visible, large, reflective house numbers that can be easily visible from the street.
“We cannot stress the importance of this enough. When we are rushing to a scene and with the elements and pitch darkness at night, it is often very difficult to find the house we are responding to,” Sandy stressed.
Jim also explained that there are situations that call for an ambulance, but also situations that can be handled with a primary care visit.
“We certainly do not want to deter people from calling, we just want them to exercise common sense,” Jim said, adding that, “… you are not seen quicker if you are brought by ambulance. Emergency rooms prioritize by the severity of the situation.”
Residents are also invited to stop by the EMS Station No. 1 on the first Saturday of every month for the free Blood Pressure Clinic from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., when they can also ask questions about EMS policy and procedure and inquire about volunteering. Station No. 1 is located at 146 South St. Extension, Warwick.
Passion for the Job
“It’s not like it is on TV. Sometimes it’s just holding someone’s hand and listening and caring, but with hundreds of friends on Facebook or Twitter, how many people can you actually say you truly impact and connect with?” Jim asks rhetorically.
“It’s an incredible, wonderful ability to impact people’s lives in a positive way,” Jim said, adding, “This is about taking the time to show compassion, and that is addictive.”