Alice Grau offers a glimpse into life as a first responder

Editor’s note: The writer describes what it is like to be an EMT in hopes that others will volunteer to be first responders in their communities.
BRIDPORT — Some six years ago, newly retired and trying to find a way to help out in my community, I decided to train as an Emergency Medical Technician, or EMT, take the certification exam, and volunteer with Townline First Response.
Townline serves Addison and Bridport, and volunteers have to live or work in those towns. We deal with emergencies from medical issues, to auto accidents, slip and falls, lifeline activations, drug overdoses, mental health crises, childbirth and domestic abuse calls. Anytime someone calls 911 for a health emergency, the dispatcher puts out a call on our pagers and cell phones, and we grab our first aid bags, oxygen tanks, AEDs (defibrillators) and rush to the scene. Our dispatcher gives us the address and as much patient information as they can, but the severity of the problem is often not clear.
When my pager goes off, it triggers a jolt of adrenaline that starts my heart pounding and sends me grabbing my coat, radio and bags to jump into my car. If the address is close to my home, I expect I will likely be the first on scene, assessing the situation as I come in and deciding what I can do to start treatment and help the patient until the ambulance arrives. Depending on the location and what else is going on, it can be a few minutes or up to a half hour ’til I hand off the patient to the ambulance crew.
In the five years since my training, I have learned a lot from the patients, their families, my fellow crew members, and the firemen and police officers I encounter. I will never forget one of my first middle-of-the-night calls. A farmer had chest pains and called 911. From his grey face, shortness of breath and elevated blood pressure we were worried it could be a heart attack. But his first words were: “I hope it’s not serious. I don’t have health insurance.” He was 64 and trying to stay healthy until he qualified for Medicare.
As I started the oxygen tank, monitored his heart and breathing and prayed the ambulance would arrive quickly. I told him: “We can’t worry about that right now.” I heard later he did have a serious heart condition and required surgery. I don’t know how he found a way to pay for that costly treatment, but I was glad to be there with a colleague from Town Line when he needed emergency help.
Sometimes we arrive too late. I remember working with the rest of my crew to perform CPR on a man found unresponsive at his home early in the morning. We tried for over a half hour, but were not able to restore a pulse. Car accidents are some of our most harrowing calls. I was lucky recently when a roll-over accident on Route 22A resulted in nothing worse than a bruise and major inconvenience for the couple hurrying to get home, though their car was likely totaled. I will never forget standing by helplessly as firefighters worked to extricate four bodies from a terrible head-on crash in the same stretch of road. Two years later, I still can’t pass that spot without thinking about that dreadful scene.
I am not a large person and appreciate that I have firemen to help me when it comes to lifting and moving patients from the floor or bed onto the stretcher. But sometimes it helps to be small. One night I was the one to crawl in through a side window when we could see the elderly man lying on the floor and the fireman with me did not need to break down his locked door! I am always glad to have other volunteers arrive, so that I am not alone dealing with a severe emergency or multiple victims.
As our county’s population ages, there will be more calls for emergency medical needs, as well as ongoing calls for home, farm and car accidents. We need more trained volunteers to help with this challenging but rewarding work.
Please consider taking the Emergency First Responder Course being offered at the Bridport Firehouse starting with CPR training March 6, and signing up with your local agency.
For more course information contact Paul or Chuck: [email protected] or [email protected].
In Case of Emergency: 10 ways you can help your first responder
1. Have your house number prominently displayed on your house, as well as on both sides of your mailbox. You can’t know from which direction your volunteer may be arriving, and it is tough to locate the right house at night.
2. Think about the lighting on your driveway and home door. There are new LED lights that cost pennies to operate and make entry safer for anyone coming to your house after dark.
3. Have an envelope with information for first responders attached to the refrigerator. It should be an eye-catching color and contain an up-to-date list of medical conditions, current medications, doctor’s name and family or other in-case-of-emergency contacts for each person in the house. If you have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form, it should be here as well.
4. If you live alone, consider giving a close neighbor an emergency door key. Another option is a hidden key or lock box so first responders don’t have to break down your door if you are unable to let them in.
5. While waiting for your first responders, put pets away where they will be safe, turn on outside lights, unlock doors, and wave first responders into the home.
6. If you haven’t had a chance to prepare a list, have the current medication bottles available for the first responders to copy medication names and doses.
7. Think about the pathway from your bedroom and bath to the exit door, and de-clutter as much as possible for the first responders to get a stretcher in and out to the ambulance.
8. First Responders will immediately work to assess the patient. Please try to give a brief history of what led to the 911 call. If you can, help complete the patient assessment form by filling in name, birthdate, and any other information the first responder asks you to write down as he/she works with the patient. This information form will travel to the hospital with the ambulance crew, and is vital for the Emergency Room personnel.
9. In your car, have a blanket to warm yourself or any other injured people while waiting for first responders after an accident. It is a great idea to keep a small first-aid kit with aspirin (for heart emergencies), and Benadryl (for allergic reactions) in your glove compartment too.
10. Look for a CPR and First Aid Course near you, and sign up if you are able. The more citizens know some basics, the more likely First Responders will be able to help save sick or injured people in our community!

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