2005-11-03 / Front Page

EMT volunteers are always needed

By Donna K. Drago

Lydia Thomas (left) watches as EMT Cheryl Serpa (center) holds baby Cordelia for the first time since she helped with her delivery Sept. 6. At right is neighbor Debbie Ruotolo, who was with Lydia when Cordelia was born at home. Photo by Donna Drago Lydia Thomas (left) watches as EMT Cheryl Serpa (center) holds baby Cordelia for the first time since she helped with her delivery Sept. 6. At right is neighbor Debbie Ruotolo, who was with Lydia when Cordelia was born at home. Photo by Donna Drago When he was a teenager, Clement Napolitano witnessed a stranger drop to the ground in front of him, noting with awe that no one in the vicinity of the tragedy seemed to know what to do to help the man who was clearly dying of heart failure.

“I vowed that would never happen to me again,” Napolitano said.

Now with 28 years of experience as an emergency medical technician in three different communities, Napolitano is the director of the Jamestown Emergency Medical Services.

He said that being an EMT gives citizens an opportunity “to really help each other,” and that EMTs “really feel good about being able to help.”

He understands that being a volunteer EMT is a big commitment, “even a burden,” Napolitano said, but he noted that the pluses far outweigh the minuses and “it’s very rewarding.”

Even with 28 years under his belt, Napolitano said that he participated recently in his first delivery of a baby who just couldn’t wait to be delivered in the hospital.

The mother of that baby, Lydia Thomas, said that she woke up in labor at about 4 a.m. Sept. 6, her water broke, and she and her husband were loading up the car to begin the ride to the hospital. After a final stop by the front door before going outside, Thomas realized that the baby had already begun to deliver itself.

She sat down on the floor, her neighbor Debbie Ruotolo was woken up, and the two completed the delivery in just minutes before the ambulance arrived on the scene.

Ruotolo said that her instincts just kicked in, and she calmly helped Lydia deliver the baby.

Once Cordelia was born, Lydia said, “I didn’t know what else to do, and I just prayed for the ambulance to come.”

Cheryl Serpa, an EMT who lives just down the street arrived with Napolitano and began to take charge of mother and baby.

“It could have been a very scary situation,” Thomas said, “but it wasn’t because of all the help I got.”

Serpa said that she helped cut the cord and took the infant’s vital functions to determine an Apgar score, which for Cordelia was very high.

Serpa began her EMT service to the Jamestown Ambulance Association in the 1970s. She left to pursue other interests, but retrained and came back in 2000 after she retired. This was her first maternity case, she said.

His team responded from different areas of the island, arriving in just five minutes after the call came in, Napolitano said. “The father and son were outside waiting, while a neighbor was inside helping the mother on the floor,” Napolitano said. “There was a lot of blood,” he recalled.

The services that the EMTs provided included helping to cut the umbilical cord, stabilizing both mother and baby, and getting them to the hospital, Napolitano said.

While all this was going on, there were two other EMS calls going on at the same time, and “we never had to call for mutual aid,” he noted.

Napolitano said there is a lot that’s new about JEMS. Including shift pay for EMTs, drivers and crew, and also a new billing system to collect the cost of the runs from a patient’s insurance company.

The shift pay is paid for by a town allocation of $60,000 to JEMS and parceled out to volunteers who commit to manning a shift. Napolitano went into the specifics of the compensation, saying that each shift has been determined to have a value of $3,333 for an entire year. A shift, as defined by JEMS, includes two EMTs, one driver and one crew member, who each receive a percentage of the value of the shift. The EMTs get 35 percent, the driver gets 20 percent and the crew member gets 10 percent, Napolitano said.

Since July, JEMS has been working with a medical billing company COMSTAR to collect payments from those residents who have health insurance.

“No one in town has to pay a copay,” Napolitano said, adding that if someone does not have medical insurance “the entire fee is waived.”

Those who are insured will have their information collected either while they are at the hospital or by mail after the trauma has occurred.

Napolitano stressed that the EMTs “don’t want to be bill collectors” and the job of collecting insurance information is not done during a trauma.

The cost for basic patient services and transport to the hospital is “just under $400,” Napolitano said, noting that while the money has not yet begun to come into town, when it does, it will be more than enough to cover the current town expenditures to JEMS. The billing company takes 6.5 percent of the total charge for management fees, Napolitano noted.

JEMS is about to begin a new series of EMT training at the end of November.

Napolitano said that the current number of EMTs on the roster is 29 and that JEMS could use 40 to ensure that every one of the 18 weekly shifts is staffed.

About four people have already indicated that they will begin the EMT training, Napolitano said, noting that “we can always use a few more.”

Colleen Schnack, a nurse, the mother of two children, and a homeowner who is active in many school events, said she wasn’t sure she had the time to offer to JEMS, but she now finds that she is able to manage her life while still committing to a shift every Friday night.

“It’s hard sometimes,” Schnack said. “I’m bound to the island,” she added But Schnack said that as a nurse she felt she had the right kind of skills to offer to the town.

“The course was a lot harder than I expected,” Schnack said about the training. “But it made me more impressed with the level of service” that people get from EMTs.

“They have to be incredibly knowledgeable,” Schnack said.

She noted that because Jamestown is such a small community, “I know many people” whose houses she goes to on ambulance runs. “There’s an opportunity to gain a rapport with the family,” and to make people feel comfortable.

Alex DeMolles, 21, is the most recent JEMS member to take and pass the EMT exam.

“I love it!” DeMolles said. Even though he is a full-time student at the University of Rhode Island, he still manages to fit his weekly duty shift into his schedule, he noted.

DeMolles does his JEMS shift each Sunday night, and because he lives at the far northern end of the island, “I sleep at the barn” every time. For the potential volunteers who are still on the fence about joining, “you can still live your life and respond from home,” DeMolles said about those volunteers who live closer to the JEMS barn.

DeMolles already has an associate’s degree in criminal justice from the Community College of Rhode Island, and he is on his way to a degree in psychology from URI.

“I want to be a state trooper,” DeMolles said, noting that his EMT training will prove invaluable towards that career goal.

The state police are usually the first people on the scene of an accident, DeMolles said. “I’ll be able to keep people alive” until the ambulance arrives, he said.

Being an EMT is not a requirement for being a state trooper, DeMolles noted, but he said he wanted to do it because the “training is worth its weight in gold.”

Call JEMS at 423-7276 or 4237281 to sign up for the new course or for more information.

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