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Volunteer Ambulance Corps Issues 2022 Status Report



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Two years to the date Americans were waking up to learn of the first COVID-19 case affecting a US resident, Newtown’s Volunteer Ambulance Corps, in conjunction with their new Chief Ryan Horn and its board of directors, issued a report to The Newtown Bee detailing some of the challenges its emergency medical responders have been facing in relation to the global pandemic.

The report also details how the all-volunteer corps, among the last of such units in Connecticut, addressed increasing call volumes along with reminding residents about how more of those calls are involving falls, lift assists, and intervention when a mental health emergency affects someone in the community.

“The NVAC is staffed by Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) who volunteer their time to provide vital emergency health services 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” the report states. “All NVAC EMTs are trained to treat patients and operate the ambulance for patient transport.”

The corps’ service area encompasses all five of Newtown’s fire department districts, totaling 60 square miles, making it the largest area in Connecticut covered by an all-volunteer ambulance corps. Taking that into consideration, the report reminds residents that NVAC services are for situations that need immediate attention, and the report urges residents in need of non-emergent care and non-emergency ambulance transport to manage those needs with alternative resources.

The NVAC is located at Fairfield Hills in a new facility that houses four ambulances plus a paramedic vehicle, embraces 45 volunteer EMT members, and provides a teaching and training facility for new EMTs.

When a call for service is received, the typical response team consists of two EMTs. For incidents needing advanced life support (ALS) services, an in-house paramedic is dispatched and joins the EMT crew.

If additional assistance is needed, NVAC will request the assistance of fire department personnel, many of whom are EMT certified. Newtown’s five independent volunteer fire departments are also dispatched for immediate life threatening events such as cardiac arrest to ensure the quickest arrival from the closest possible first responder.

The report states that NVAC personnel continue to bear the weight of care for those battling the Coronavirus — and the fight often starts as a 911 call. And for every emergency response, all first responders risk exposure to the virus with potential spread to their respective agency and families.

Pandemic Strains Ranks

As a volunteer operation, the pandemic strained the call of duty for our members, the report details.

“In 2020, when COVID-19 was deemed an imminent threat and schools and businesses went remote, the NVAC experienced a loss of participation from immune-compromised members. The reduction in staff was then offset with the return of college students sent home for remote learning.

The Newtown corps currently has 12 members who are students aged 18 through 28.

In the first couple months of the shutdown, the report states, “there was a lull of EMS (Emergency Medical Services) dispatches as we all laid low during what was expected to be a short stay of seclusion.” Call volume was further diminished because there was a marked reduction in motor vehicle accidents immediately following the shutdown.

During this time, health care providers across the world were experiencing personal protection equipment (PPE) shortages, which stressed response operations. Concurrently, hospital emergency rooms were churning out advisories and protocols to address the spread of the virus — the most distressing of which was visitor restrictions.

“For some patients, their last moments with family were when EMTs loaded them onto the stretcher and into the ambulance,” according to the report.

By summer 2020, PPE supplies were coming in, and as detailed in a previous Newtown Bee feature, the NVAC purchased an ozone disinfectant machine to clean the rigs, and a portable UV light was made available to sanitize crew personal equipment such as stethoscopes. Also, each member was provided with a respirator and N95 masks.

“Members now had the safety equipment to return, and they did,” the report says. And by that December, “healthcare workers were first to receive the vaccinations, hospital restrictions loosened, and there was a collective sigh of relief — but it did not last as 2021 saw local EMS dispatches increasing.”

In 2021, local volunteers rolled out to a record 2,967 calls, up a whopping 20% from 2020 – with those selfless volunteers often averaging eight calls a day.

A measurable share of dispatches were probably not detected across Newtown’s many neighborhoods as nearly 500 stemmed from the town’s assisted living and rehabilitation facilities. Crews noted an increase in patient care for Coronavirus positive and Coronavirus suspected patients towards the end of 2021 as the Omicron variant spread, but Coronavirus-related calls explain only part of the increase in EMS dispatches.

Newtown’s “elderly and fragile population need our help,” the report said. “It started in 2020 when these independent residents lost supportive services from family, neighbors, and aides.”

The outcome is reflected in 2021 dispatch records with local EMTs responding almost daily, making 358 visits to a private residence for either a fall or lift assist emergency. Fortunately, the majority of these incidents did not require a hospital transport and volunteers were said to be “glad that we can help.”

Local EMS first responders have also been seeing an increase in behavioral emergencies, with NVAC crews responding to 212 psychological, suicidal, and substance abuse events. Among those calls were 24 overdoses, several of which ended in tragic outcomes.

“Many in our community are struggling with addiction, loneliness, and loss,” the report reflects. “And as limitations on social services and social interactions persist, there are devastating mental health effects.”

These emergencies can involve police intervention or support as well, because some situations become volatile.

Be Prepared For Responders

While chronic health issues are best handled by primary or specialized health care professionals, Newtown’s EMT volunteers are often the first medical professionals interacting with residents who call for help.

To prepare for EMS arrival, the report asks residents to ensure addresses are clearly marked, that the location of the call be well-lit and, if possible, that any obstructions be cleared to allow for the ambulance to park as close to the patient location as possible.

It is also helpful to gather medical information detailing existing conditions and medications, to secure animals, and factor in that visitors are restricted at all hospitals — so the party being transported should bring a mobile phone with them to the Emergency Room.

And since many residents remain unvaccinated, these individuals have become Newtown’s most health vulnerable community members. As a result, when responding to a call for help, EMS personnel will request infection and vaccination status — and require patients to wear masks as they are being transported to the hospital.

In closing, the report reminds residents there is a national shortage of healthcare workers, emergency rooms are filling or occasionally full, and once again hospitals are enforcing visitation restrictions.

The latest information reveals that during the first two weeks of January, Newtown volunteer EMTs answered 145 dispatches, bringing the daily call volume to 10. On January 6, NVAC was particularly challenged, but was able to muster personnel to cover four simultaneous EMS calls.

At the same time, NVAC was able to come to the aid of a neighboring EMS service that is often Newtown’s first backup when local crews are occupied or stretched thin. On January 3 at 6 am, one of the Stony Hill Volunteer Fire Company’s ambulances went out of service for maintenance and repairs, and NVAC was able to loan them a Newtown ambulance so that Stony Hill could remain in service and provide emergency care to the Town of Bethel.

Stony Hill spokesperson Michelle Greenspan told The Newtown Bee that NVAC has loaned the ambulance for approximately two weeks while Stony Hill’s ambulance was undergoing repairs.

“During these two weeks, when NVAC needed additional support responding to calls in Newtown, Stony Hill was able to assist NVAC and respond to Newtown in our loaned ambulance,” Greenspan added, adding that the effort represented “a great showing of partnership and neighboring community support.”

To learn more about Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps, to inquire about various volunteer opportunities, including many that do not involve certifications, medical response, or patient contact — or to provide a donation or financial support, visit newtown-ambulance.org — or the NVAC's Facebook Page.

Editor John Voket can be reached at editor@thebee.com.

In an October 2021 photo from the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps Facebook page, one of Newtown’s rigs is pictured standing by at the Danbury Hospital Emergency Dept. The NVAC has issued a 2022 update noting increasing call volumes, along with numerous important facts for the community to know about their services.
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