2008-05-15 / Front Page

JEMS volunteers prepare for busy summer season

By Stephanie Heelan Cotsonas

The ambulance barn at 12 Knowles Court houses three ambulances and 68 volunteers at one time or another each week. In Jamestown, if a call to 911 is made, there is a good chance that the patient will know his or her EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).

Commander Rick Hodges is relatively new to the island and admits to learning a lot of JEMS history anecdotally. "I consider this an opportunity to give back to the community I live in. I think that is what you see in a lot of people. If we weren't volunteer, we would be paying someone and losing some of that volunteer spirit that goes a long way in a small town," he said.

That volunteer spirit comes across in interesting ways. "Sometimes when there is a call for a routine transport there is just the duty crew, but if you have something serious you can't even see the patient there are so many EMTs around," Hodges said.

Jamestown Emergency Services (JEMS) was founded in 1948 and provides emergency service at no charge to island residents. They made approximately 550 runs last year, which includes emergencies as well as community services such as standing by at the Save the Bay swim.

Hodges recalled some of his more memorable runs. "The situations that are not totally under control are exciting and then you have the more amusing calls, like you are called to Beavertail and you have a guy with an obviously broken hip who says 'don't step on the green algae, that stuff is really slippery."

JEMS is staffed entirely by volunteer EMTs, qualified drivers and back-up crews. EMTs complete a 140-hour training program, with written and practical exams. Both EMTs and drivers certify yearly in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Six of the 68 JEMS members are non-residents since there are few local communities who have a volunteer program. "Everybody is there because they want to be. Whether you are an EMT or a crew or a driver you are showing up for at least one night of training a month to stay on top of skills. It is important to stay sharp because we don't get as many calls in the winter," Hodges said.

According to Hodges, JEMS is always looking for volunteers. There are 10 new EMTs coming in from the most recent training class and a new class is run every year to keep the numbers up. By becoming a JEMS volunteer there is some incentive in tax relief for homeowners or a small cash-in-kind stipend.

"There are the old regulars, like Vinny Vesella, Nancy Beye, Sandy Paterson, and there are probably eight or 10 other people who have been doing this for 10 to 25 years. That is your core of really committed people," Hodges said

One of the newer JEMS members is Linda Brown who is in her second year as an EMT. "It is just so much fun to be part of this organization because there are people from all walks of life. I find that camaraderie really fun. It is also very stimulating intellectually because you have to keep your skills up all the time," she said.

JEMS is always accepting monetary donations. The ambulances were purchased and equipped with the help of community contributions and they are currently raising funds to purchase a new ambulance to be named in memory of Karl Smith. Donations were also used to give the garage a recent facelift. Improvements include a major cleanup and a new paint job. Those involved in the ongoing landscaping project include Dorothy Magratten, Linda Brown, Prim Bullock, Vinny Vesella, David Bento and Scott Rafferty. A Jamestown Brownie troop also planted flowers and bulbs as part of their troop project.

Brown admits that being an EMT is challenging and a time commitment. "I work with great people who put me in a position to help me test my skills," Hodges added. "When you hear the horns go off in the middle of the night you know that you may not be getting much sleep that night."

For more information about JEMS, call 423-7276. As part of EMT week and to show off the recent renovations, there will be an open house at the Ambulance Barn after the Memorial Day Parade on May 26 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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