Volunteer Ambulances At The Ready For Challenging Pope Visit

Emergency Medical Services in New York dispatch an average 6,000 ambulance runs each day. For the Pope’s visit on Friday, medical services expect more calls due to the 2 million pilgrims expected to follow His Holiness to the city. However, only 14 FDNY ambulances will be added unevenly to the city’s hospitals and no public emergency vehicle has received clearance to enter closed off streets.

Help will come to the thinly spread public EMS resources partially through another emergency service: volunteer ambulances and EMTs.

At 5pm on Friday, Sept 25th, Pope Francis is scheduled to lead a procession in Central Park from 72nd to 60th Street. The event will gather 80,000 ticketholders, carefully screened by the NYPD starting noon. Anyone missing proper authorization and identification will be refused access.

Amidst the increased park attendance and security, the Central Park Medical Unit ready for medical emergencies.

“All our units will be functioning during for the procession,” said Raphael I. Castellanos, 55, volunteer EMT and president of CPMU.

The 4 ambulances, 2 response vehicles, and 4 medic bicycles CPMU has access to will be operated by a fraction of its 100 volunteers, all of which had to receive prior authorization by the city authorities to work on Friday.

Under normal conditions, FDNY’s public ambulances reach patients under 7 minutes. Garrett McCarthy, 25, paramedic for the Lennox Hill and New York Presbyterian hospitals, recalls his most recent experience falling far from that goal:

“We just hit three or four cross streets that were in complete gridlock,” McCarthy said. “Eventually we found ourselves manoeuvring down a one-way road, sirens blaring, to make it.”

In this rare instance from last April, McCarthy reached his patient in 20 minutes.

“Of course, every call is unique, but during large events it’s very different,” said Raphael Z. Castellanos, 24, son of the CPMU president and volunteer EMT. “If you can’t get closer to the caller, you have to march through the crowd and tell people to get out of the way.”

Once a patient is retrieved, CMPU ambulances bring them to the closest hospital.

“EMS gets overloaded with calls, so volunteer ambulances help provide quality care to people,” said Stevie Hipp, EMT at Bedford Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 20 years.

“All volunteers pass the EMT state exam, and our ambulances are spotless,” Hipp said. “But more important; our service to the community comes from the heart.”

Volunteers get no pay for their services, and equipment is funded through donations. Volunteer EMS organizations provide their services for free to patients who would otherwise be billed an average $840 and boast average response rates of 4 minutes.

“40 years ago, the CPMU first started because if somebody got hurt in Central Park, it would take 30, 40 minutes for an ambulance to get to them,” said the older Castellanos. Today the difference isn’t as stark, but 3 minutes can make a difference between life and death.

Overall, Friday is considered a good day to volunteer at CPMU. The sign up sheet filled up fast:

“I wasn’t picked!” Castellanos junior said with a laugh. “It’s probably because I tried to sign up too late. [The volunteers] are excited to see the Pope.”

Originally published at theink.nyc on September 24, 2015.


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