fire & ems

The little mouse that roars

By TED WADDELL
Posted 4/28/21

COCHECTON, NY — The Town of Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc. held its first meeting on December 8, 1969.

Chairman James Creegan called the assemblage to order. The corps was …

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fire & ems

The little mouse that roars

Posted

COCHECTON, NY — The Town of Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc. held its first meeting on December 8, 1969.

Chairman James Creegan called the assemblage to order. The corps was initially guided by several members of the close-knit community: Morris Katzoff (president), James Creegan (vice-president), Gertrude Katzoff (secretary) and Loretta Gilbert (treasurer).

The volunteer organization started with about 20 members, although it eventually increased its roster. In recent years, there has been a decline in active membership due in part to the changing demographics in our rural area, and the fact that many folks work multiple jobs to keep food on the table.

The corps’ first ambulance was purchased from Civil Defense for one dollar and was repaired and repainted at Sullivan County BOCES in Liberty, NY for a grand total of $489.46.

As the corps was founded, it was decided that it would be funded solely by donations. Currently, this is accomplished through an annual letter fund drive to residents of the 32-square-mile town.

“We are 100-percent volunteer, and we receive no additional public or tax funding,” said Michael Bruce, the corps’ new captain, a dedicated professional and volunteer with close to 50 years in the field of emergency medical services (EMS).

He got into the medical field as an 18-year corpsman with the U.S. Navy. Later, he was assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps as a “mini John Wayne”.

Reflecting back on his time as a naval corpsman serving with Fox Company of the USMC 1st Division, Bruce said, “They had no idea what to do with a Navy corpsman without a battle, [but] I loved every minute of it. You’re their doc, and for 18- or 19-year-olds, you could walk on water... It was all on you.”

After four and a half years serving his country, Bruce was hired as an ambulance driver. Later, he worked his way through emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic training, becoming an NYS-certified paramedic in 1980. “I never looked back. [EMTs and paramedics are] the red-headed stepchildren of all the emergency medical services... We’re always neglected until something happens.”

He took over the helm of the local volunteer ambulance corps four years ago from April Bunny White, who now serves as co-captain.

“April is a very dynamic person,” Bruce said, adding that her grandfather Bob White was “the unofficial mayor of Cochecton,” a local fire warden and once the owner of Riley’s General Store.

Until the advent of the new millennium, Bruce said membership in the Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps hovered around 50 to 70 active members. However, this was around the time “the need for more training and certifications became the rule” in New York State. “The amount of time required to be a volunteer... started to change in responsibilities to society... and also with the changes in the demographics of our area,” he noted as a factor that caused a decline in volunteerism.

Bruce said that newcomers moving into the rural area is somewhat of a double-edged sword: Folks relocating from more affluent areas can often have expectations for EMS that exceed what is available in locales with more limited resources and a lack of full-time, paid fire departments and ambulance services.

Compounding the issue is that some people have a hard time determining what emergencies are appropriate for EMS help. Often, people will call out volunteers for minor issues, a situation that can negatively affect morale within local corps.

“When EMS gets to the scene, it’s like we owe them something... [some] people think they have to call an ambulance for every little thing like it’s a taxi service,” said Bruce, echoing a similar train of thought expressed by a lot of EMS volunteers.

He said that one of the challenges is to “get people to help themselves and their community... like [learning] what to do [until] help arrives, or when to call.”

Citing the differences between city life and residing in the county, he said of some newcomers, “They expect us to be there in one to two minutes, but for some of us, it’s 10 minutes or better before we can even get the ambulance out.”

Speaking of ambulances, the vintage Civil Defense rig is long gone, but in 2020, the corps got a great deal on a 2017 rig as their primary ambulance. The 20-year-old ambulance retired into backup status.

The current line officers of the corps are Mike Bruce (captain), April White (co-captain), William Blush (lieutenant), along with administrative officers Michael Attianese (president), Peter Grosser (vice president), Barbara Attianese (secretary) and Carol Nearing (treasurer). Trustees are John Zimmerman, Steve Sauer, Mike Attianese, Peter Grosser and Barbara Attianese.

Last year, the Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps was dispatched 154 times and was able to crew 102 of the calls for emergency medical assistance.

“For a strictly volunteer corps, that’s pretty darn good,” said Bruce. In 2015, he added, they were able to crew 26 responses of the 135 calls; in 2016, they made 91 of the 156 calls.

At present, the corps lists 13 active road members who are backed up by two active administrative members.

The youngest member is a 16-year-old junior member currently enrolled in an EMT course. If he passes all his tests, when he reaches his 17th birthday, he will be able to ride as a state-certified EMT.

According to Bruce, the corps increased its roster by three members over the past two months and may possibly add three more this year.

“We’re the little mouse that roared in Sullivan County... we have done so much in the last four or five years. I love working the west side of this county,” said Bruce, who likened his position to that of being chief of a volunteer fire department.

To contact the Town of Cochecton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, visit its Facebook page, or you can call the ambulance building located in the firehouse at 845/932-8138 and leave a message.

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