May 17-23 is the 41st annual EMS Week.
by Susan Hellauer
It was 1941, a time when the world needed everyday heroes, when men were going to war, and women were taking on new, necessary tasks. It was then and thus that Violet Doerzaph made history when she climbed up beside her driver and, trained and ready, became the first female ambulance worker in New York State. She was a member of Nyack Community Ambulance Corps (NCAC).
Nyack Ambulance, when founded in 1939, had volunteer members trained in First Aid, they had a constitution and bylaws, a 1925 Franklin ambulance, a lot of enthusiasm . . . but not much more. The area covered then was huge: from Tappan, up through Congers and west to Orangeburg and Blauvelt. The ambulance was parked at local garages or even on the street. It was not until 1947 that the Corps purchased the land under a junkyard at Sixth Avenue and North Midland and, with the generosity of the community and innumerable bake sales, dedicated the first part of the NCAC building in 1949.
From that 1925 Franklin, our fleet has grown to three ambulances, a captain’s SUV, two electric GEM cars and two mountain bikes. The Corps’ leadership keeps them equipped with the latest lifesaving equipment, including power stretchers and loaders, for the safety of our workers and patients. And we now carry the Lucas CPR machine, which has been shown to increase survivability in cardiac arrest.
Being “first” did not end with Vi Doerzaph. Nyack Community Ambulance Corps was first in the Hudson Valley with several cutting-edge therapies carried by Basic Life Support (BLS) services, including glucometry for suspected blood sugar abnormalities, and Narcan for opiate overdose reversal. We were first as well with electronic patient care reports, and with vehicle drive cameras, to insure safe operation.
Our Corps building is now much more than a place to park ambulances and hold meetings. We are a community center in times of man-made or meteorological disaster, where our neighbors are welcome to charge electronics, get warm and stay safe. We are ready and willing to provide CPR training to community organizations, with several certified instructors among our members. And for more than 30 years we have been home to a Youth Corps for high school students. They train intensively, ride along on ambulance calls under the supervision of experienced members, and participate in patient care. Many Youth Corps “graduates” go on to careers in medicine as doctors, nurses and paramedics, and continue to ride with NCAC as valued officers and members.
The equipment and medication we carry have become increasingly effective through the years, but our volunteers have always been our most valuable asset, combining skill, devotion and compassion. They not only respond to calls as drivers and EMTs, but also govern the Corps as elected officers and oversee its operations. Our active riding members range in age from 18 to 65, and come from a variety of professions and backgrounds, most with no previous medical experience.
What does it mean to be a volunteer for Nyack Ambulance? Our active riding members commit to one six-hour shift every week. Drivers are trained in CPR and safe vehicle operation; EMTs are trained and tested to a professional level, with safety as a primary goal. All training and uniforms are provided free of charge, and members are rewarded with a “Length of Service” pension plan and other incentives. Monthly meetings are held to make decisions on aspects of the Corps (and to eat pizza). Above all, although they put a lot into their commitment, our members will tell you that they gain much more: the skill and poise to respond in an emergency—on or off duty—-the overwhelming satisfaction of helping a neighbor in a tough spot, and the opportunity to save a life, or many lives.
Take it from one who knew exactly how to clear a piece of broccoli from her one-year-old grandson’s airway, the time in training class was a worthy investment.
Applications for membership are available at NyackEMS.org or call 845.358. 4824 to speak with us about how to become a member. We still need everyday heroes, and you just might be one.
Susan Hellauer is a Bronx native and Nyack resident. She is a member of the vocal ensemble Anonymous 4 and teaches music and writing at Queens College. She has been a volunteer with Nyack Community Ambulance Corps since 2001, and now serves as board member and Corps secretary.