This year, the New Paltz Rescue Squad celebrated 40 years of helping the community.
The squad responds to more than 2,000 calls annually, serving SUNY New Paltz, the Town of New Paltz, Mohonk Mountain House and 10 miles of the thruway.
Chief of the New Paltz Rescue Squad Gina Bassinette previously worked at her own yoga studio and as a social worker, but said she was drawn to the emergency aspect of the job and the urgency of responding to situations or “calls.”
According to Bassinette, the rescue squad consists of more than 80 members and about 95 percent of whom work as volunteers. Volunteers are assigned to a roster of two 12-hour shifts, provide constant support to the area and respond to various emergencies, such as chest pains, falls, campus medical problems or transfers to hospitals.
Volunteers are usually assigned to three-person crews made up of a paramedic, an EMT and a driver, Bassinette said. While an EMT is trained in basic life support, such as bandaging, splinting and CPR, the paramedic focuses on advanced life support. Their duties include the insertion of IVs, medicine treatment and intubation if the patient cannot breathe. EMTs have roughly 200 hours of training, while paramedic training takes approximately one year.
Responsibilities of a crew include setting up the ambulance – called a “rig” – to go out and run calls, which can last up to two hours from start to finish. Some days, Bassinette said, crews can be out running calls for their entire shift.
“You’re with somebody for 12 hours in the craziest circumstances,” she said. “You rely on each other. It’s like a family.”
The Rescue Squad’s Business Manager Debra Sokota was working as a chiropractor when she witnessed a motorcycle accident. She said the experience made her realize she wanted to know how to react in an emergency situation. After earning EMT certification, she began work at the Rescue Squad.
“I started out part-time, and now it’s full-time and then some,” Sokota said.
She still goes out on calls as an EMT and handles the business side of operations.
Carrie Michaud, an EMT and 2011 SUNY New Paltz graduate, studied psychology and sociology. Although originally from Connecticut, she stayed because of her experiences working with the New Paltz Rescue Squad.
She said it’s the most important part of her life and a process of self-discovery.
“Medical knowledge is really important – it’s vital. But holding a hand is just as important as medication,” Michaud said. “Coming out of school, you want to do everything [you’ve learned] – but it’s more about being there than anything else.”
In the back of an ambulance rushing to the hospital, EMTs and paramedics strike up conversation, assuage fears and comfort patients. Bassinette also said she thinks tending to a person’s mind is just as important as tending to their body.
“One of my favorite things is to take care of the elderly,” Bassinette said. “They can be so vulnerable. Being able to take care of them and calm down…is just as rewarding.”
The job doesn’t come without its tough times, Bassinette said. Although the New Paltz Rescue Squad has had many successful calls, even a “textbook situation” call when Bassinette’s crew saved a choking baby, there is at least one call a week that doesn’t go as well.
“You want to make someone better, and sometimes you just can’t,” Bassinette said. “You do the best you can under the worst circumstances. My mentor once told me, ‘If you can make it better, or not make it worse, you did a good job.’”