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Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas the Night of the Squad Call

by Steven P. Velasquez
December 2005

'Twas the night of the squad call when all through the town,
Not a “hero” responded, not one could be found.

Her chest had felt pressure, her lungs short of air,
Praying for an ambulance soon to be there.

The “heroes” were all nestled all snug in their beds,
While images of heroism danced in their heads.
And Mama in her jumpsuit and I, a job shirt
Heard the pager & rolled over – “It’s your third alert!”

When out on my scanner there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to view what’s the matter?!
Away to the scanner I staggered – then belched,
Raised up the volume and lowered the squelch.

The dispatcher yelled to the officers on scene
“Step it up! They called back. The patient’s not breathing!”
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But career Paramedics, no sign of volunteers?

No little old drivers – jump - suits or blue lights,
I knew in a moment our end was in sight.
More rapid than eagles, their medicines came,
As they pushed them, with confidence, and called them by name:

“Now bag her! Now tube her!
Now, Epi Now Fluids!
No breathing! No pulses!
No BLS? How stupid!
To have no responders
Nobody at all?
She’s passed away, passed away
Maybe next call.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fooled by the weather and by the people

by Steven P. Velasquez
October 31, 2011

As last week's weather forecasts began to mention the "S" word for North and West Jersey, I and I assume a great many others, believed it was another bogus forecast designed to stir public interest and increase their viewer base.  As the weekend rolled up, it became more plausible that this was in fact a storm with real consequences and it's no B.S., it's coming!

Who in the northeast ever remembers snow before Halloween?  Yes, possible but definitely not probable.  Well it arrived and packed quite the punch too.  Some of the complicating factors were that the trees still held their leaves compounded by a heavy, wet snow-fall and high winds.  This tri-fecta of seasonal circumstances created a Nor'easter we won't soon forget, particularly those of us in Emergency Services.

The snow began to fall mid-afternoon on Saturday.  When I awoke to go to work the night shift in Newark, my truck had a tree down in front of it and large limbs scattered behind it. The truck however was spared.  Heading into work was a wintry mix of snow, rain and high winds.  I guzzled my extra-large D&D coffee and wondered what the night had planned for us.

I was detailed to the unit covering Newark Liberty International Airport (MIC-5) and was unsure if our volume would be less or greater than usual as there were significant flight delays / cancellations and the Governor had called for a "State of Emergency" where vehicular travel was  supposed to stop -- supposed to.

Temperature Drops

As the night progressed, we had our normal mix of people with boo-boos, nausea, an occasional seizure etc...What began to happen around 2 a.m. was horrific.  We were monitoring the radio traffic of our co-workers in the field, a mix of Basic and Advanced Life Support units, a Heavy Rescue and supervisory personnel scrambling to a series of collisions mixed in with the already heavy call volume of New Jersey's busiest city (from an EMS perspective).  One after the other, they chimed in; an accident here, two vehicles there, four or five cars here.  "We're on the scene checking for injuries."  Then their voices escalated as more cars came slipping, sliding and crashing into the original cars they were out investigating.  "Call radio to this location and tell them to put a push on it, someone is going to get killed!"  Those words escaped the mouth of one of our veteran rescue technicians, not some newbie wetting his/her pants on their first "hot job."  Anyone within an earshot of that message knew these people were in danger.  With the already scarce city resources stretched beyond their capacity, there really wasn't any help available.

The viaduct where Rte. 21 joins Rte. 22, Rte. 78 and Route's 1&9 was a sheet of ice.  These units were out there operating with no protection between them and the two-ton, 70+ mph projectiles (vehicles) that were now careening at them out of control.  Some of our units witnessed a collision, checked the driver out and found them to be uninjured however, they couldn't leave their side as that victim was right in the line of fire of other traffic headed their way.  Again, the calls for police units to manage these scenes went unanswered as there was just no one to send.

Protecting and Serving

Protecting and serving people during their time of need is what a public servant does.  The circumstances illustrated above briefly describes a moment in time where the emergency services are exposed to grave danger and possibly loss of their own lives.  It doesn't always have to be a bullet, a fire or war to claim the lives of my brother's and sister's.  Danger comes in all forms and we who answer this call to action face it regularly and without hesitation.

Sounds noble right?  You should picture an American flag waving behind my shaved head as I read that last paragraph.

Then comes some of the shit-bags that we have to protect and serve; too often from their own stupidity!  What the hell are you doing on the road during a "State of Emergency" in the first place?  Ignorance? Stupidity? Over confidence (I have 4WD)?  Whatever the case, there are people out there that create their own circumstances, jeopardize themselves and us as a result of their stupidity!  Without betraying the confidentiality of anyone I may or may not have treated during said storm, suffice it to say we met more than a few people who were obviously hunting for law suits!  They all think they're slick but a few simple questions and we can peer right through their ostensibly injured veneer and see that they're speed-dialing their law-firm "Dewey Cheetahm and Howe."

The nerve, the absolutely sickening nerve some of these people have with their lame attempts to feign injury, "Oh, my neck, my back, ouch it hurts."  And a moment later, "Can I get a copy of your run report?  --  You know, just in case?"

Just in case my ass!  We willingly face this danger to ourselves that can change or end our lives, in the service of others, and this -- this is what we wind up having to deal with?  Yes I know and am very familiar with the fact that I cannot pick and chose my patients, but this bullshit I can deal without.  I see these people wincing, grimacing when I look at them.  A brief turn of my head and I see their eye opening to see if I'm looking back at them.  We have people question us more than we question them.  They want to know everything they're writing, why we're asking questions about their personal information and often begin counseling with each other, often in foreign tongues, scheming how they're going to get paid out for this.

Tonight people put on their masks and costumes and go visit people portraying themselves as others.  I pray the people my co-workers and I see will be genuine and worthy of our sacrifice.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Practical Birthday

by Steven P. Velasquez
Oct. 7, 2011

Few people in my life know that I’ve made some changes over the recent past and fewer still know why.  Suffice it to say the reasons are personal and it matters not who’s at fault.  When it comes to human relationships and parenting, the only people that truly matter are the children and immediate family members. 

A little over a week ago while my Facebook account was blowing up with literally hundreds of birthday wishes (which I truly appreciate and admit they helped me greatly while dealing with said issue), my life at home had finally burst at the seams and required drastic change.  It was time to leave.  That realization was made years ago, but for reasons economic had not yet manifested.  Now, ready or not, it had just become too much and required immediate action.  Fortunately, thank God, my parents were kind enough to open their arms and say “Come home son.”

Pay no attention to the man 
behind the curtain
After working a night shift, I had spent the entire day (my birthday) loading a trailer with my immediate needs, my laptop, camera equipment, toiletries, lots of uniforms and a few civilian clothes.  Like a refugee fleeing a hostile government, I packed what I could fit and travelled north.  I couldn’t care less about moving away from the person I was living with but was absolutely devastated over the idea of leaving my four year-old daughter as this seemingly repeating pattern had happened once before when her older sister was five.  The tearing at my heart was unbearable and balanced only by the occasional glances at my phone and the constant deluge of kind words and birthday wishes.  I didn’t want to ruin it by posting something like “please stop wishing me a happy birthday, I’m moving out and leaving my daughter today,” so I just kept replying with the thank you’s and expressions appreciative.  Like the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain, I hid behind the veneer of my beaming smile on my Facebook profile pic, all the while huddled in a corner, saddened and unsure of how I was going to handle this.  I missed my baby already.

I got home and my parents and sister greeted me with open arms and heavy hearts themselves as they wondered; “What about the baby? When will we see her?”  I reassured them, all would be fine.  My phone kept vibrating and chiming; “Have a great birthday, hope you’re spending the day smiling with family and friends!”  “Happy birthday big guy, hope you’re not working like always!”  Yes I am.  I worked the night before, am moving all day today, and will return to work tonight again.

Photo: The Trundle Bed Store
My parents tried to make me comfortable and cleaned out my childhood bedroom that was now their office and place for all things preparatory (ironing, makeup, hair etc…).  We went to the basement and retrieved one of the trundle beds I had purchased for my older daughters and assembled it hastily.  My mother purchased new bedding material for my birthday in an effort to give me a “practical” gift.  Funny thing about getting older, you go from getting awesome gifts like toys, and things you can play with to toiletries, clothing and – bedding materials.  Practical.

The tree comes to life and plucks
the little boy from his bedroom
window in the 1982 movie "Poltergiest"

The following day, I returned to Rutherford with another truck load of stuff and was ready to get some shut-eye & test my new “practical” sheets.  The bed was positioned beneath the window I used to look out at in terror during hurricanes and storms as the tree-branches seemed to come to life and want to reach in and grab me (too much watching “Poltergeist” I suppose).  The window I used to dream beneath on a winter’s night when, if you listened closely enough, the Christmas arrangement of illuminated bells would issue a soft ding dong sound as their filaments waxed and waned with transient bursts of energy.  The window where I made a heinous discovery one Christmas Eve!  Riddled with anxiousness, I couldn’t sleep and eagerly awaited the sound of hoof-prints on my rooftop.  Instead, I heard the opening and closing trunk of the 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlas Supreme (gold with a black vinyl rooftop), not a single tiny reindeer to be found.  When what to my wondering eyes did appear? The stark realization that I had been betrayed all these years! Santa Claus, Saint Nick, the jolly old elf that was supposed to drop down my chimney was dressed as a Peruvian factory worker!  Eh, that’s ok, he still brought me cool, exciting, non-practical gifts.

It's good to be home.

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Cell Phones Please!

By Steven P. Velasquez
Sept. 30, 2011

Raul Montes DeOca of "Wood & Strings"
I visited my barber shop in Perth Amboy, NJ yesterday for some molding and shaping of my traditional “high & tight” hair.  I walked in and was quickly greeted by screaming, explosions, heavy gun and artillery fire interwoven between the horn and conga sections of a salsa band overhead. 

Handshakes and hugs were exchanged as I was invited to sit in one of their chairs.  The rat ta tat tat of machine gun fire was deafening and surprisingly no one was ducking, diving or otherwise taking cover.  The staff was heavily engaged in a video game on an obnoxiously large screen and matching surround sound system.  As they wrapped my neck and cloaked my chest I tried to tune out the noise when the chair spun me toward a mirror with a sign that read “No cell Phones Please.”  They apparently didn’t want distracted customers talking or texting while they were approaching people’s jugular and carotid areas with razors.  Makes sense to me!

I laughed internally as this group of mostly Latino 20 something’s continued their combined forward assault on the enemy -- and my patience. 

This was a rather strange place to make observations about “generational differences” I thought.  On second thought though, where better?  My mind transported me back to my childhood barber on Orient Way in Rutherford, NJ.  His name was Joe, was of Italian descent and probably in his 60’s or 70’s when I was a child.  Joe did his best to overcome our generational barriers with a lollipop during my angst-filled visits.  Barber shops back then were akin to churches with red, white and blue rotating poles in front.  They were serene and involved sitting quietly for long periods of time while the cloaked old man in the front did all the talking, as he forgivingly excised wayward follicles as if they were sin.  The only noises heard were the snippity snip of skilled scissors, the twining trimmers, and the to and fro of a sharp razor against an abrasive hone.  The walls were lined with pictures of days long past and a radio would often sit upon a shelf with a makeshift antenna to boost the crackling score of the New York Yankees or deliver the oft somber news -- of the seventies. 

Joe and barbers of his era were customer focused.  They knew that you were their customer, their mortgage payment, their meal.  You and your need to keep a trim cut were their repeating business and thus their way to pay their bills.  I don’t think for a moment that even if they had access to wireless internet, flat-screen TV’s, complex gaming systems and cell-phones that they would ever let them interfere with “church.” 

My barber yesterday kept his phone to his ear the entire time he cut my hair.  At times pausing and walking away from me so he could continue rambling on in Spanish.  Not that the language matters, but I could imagine the frustration of a customer, unlike myself, who couldn’t even understand what was being said. 

Today’s generation seems to draw no line between their place of work from the comfort of their bedrooms.  The thundering gaming system, the booming music, the constant chatter and incessant texting made me long for yesterday, for striped poles, soft conversation with gentleman Joe and no cell phones.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Tears of September

by Steven Velasquez
September 16, 2011

With a deep sigh and a glance at the changing weather, it quite unfortunately is time to say buh-bye butterfly fries.  Peace out pretzels.  Ciao Kohr's custard.  Ta ta taffy and farewell to funnel cake.  We'll be back again next summer (God willing).  These thoughts rattled about my mind as I passed the closed shops and stands, during a cathartic stroll along the boardwalk at Point Pleasant this week.

Point Pleasant, NJ

Brianna enjoys summer's end at the shore
It was ten years and a day after hate-filled terrorists scarred the beautiful mental landscape of serene summer's past.  Now, and I anticipate for at least the rest of my summers, the seasons' end will always lead up to a tear-filled week in September filled with hugs, fond memories, prayer and reflection.  Those were the reasons I finally took a night to myself and partnered with my youngest, my angel, for some salt-water therapy and the touch of her little hand before it too changes and needs mine no more.

I remember seasons seemingly lasting forever as a child.  There were the endless summers, long, cold winters and a fair share of the others between.  Now, as I enter my forty third year in a few days, they appear to turn on and off, as if on a switch.  My former "little hands" are now 21 and 15.  The last in the series turns 5 in October.

I do wonder how their minds perceive the seasons.  Do they see them as long and drawn out as I once did?  Or is the world really spinning faster and they see time passing as quickly as I do?  I pray not. Does youth alter the perception of time or does age?    Are they equally as stunned and disappointed by the season's haste? Do they too wish they could slow things down just a tad?

Do they too shed Daddy's "tears of September?"

"Farewell to Summer"

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reflections on 9/11

By Ron Jacobs, MICP
(Reprinted with permission)

Remember when 10 years ago
On a bright September morn;
When planes did crash and fire raged
And our patriotism was reborn

Interfaith memorial - So. Amboy, NJ 2001

Terrorists had attacked us
But could not keep us down;
As Fire, Police, and EMS
Rushed to New York town

So many of us were working
On that 9/11 day;
And all had but a singular thought
That help was on the way.

With little thought of personal care
Through the rubble they made their way
Looking to help wherever they could
And maybe save the day.

Alas there was no saving
The damage had been done
But no retreat was sounded
Into the battle we all would run

So many lives were tragically lost
We all know more than a few;
And none of us will ever forget
The sites, the sounds, the view.

So take a moment on this Sunday
To reflect and remember the past
To all who didn’t make it
Your memories will always last.

Ron Jacobs, MICP - Biography
Ron Jacobs is in his 38th year in EMS, 36 of them as a Paramedic.  Ron works for Atlantic EMS and MONOC and serves as faculty at Union County College for 17 years.  He’s an instructor of ACLS, PALS, PHTLS and ITLS.  He’s a licensed respiratory therapist in NJ and previously served as the clinical coordinator for the Saint Barnabas Health Care System MICU.  Ron is also a kitchen designer and an avid golfer and bowler.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Am From...

by Nicolette A. Velasquez
September, 2011

The following is a poem my daughter Nikki has composed for an English class.  She shared it with me on Facebook and well, you can imagine a father's response.  I'm sharing it with you and would love to hear your replies.

Thank you in advance.

I am from Steve and Dawn,
But also Mark and Michele

The girls and Michele

We are Inkybink, Breezy, and Samonkey


I am from fire trucks, and ambulances
And "I’ll be right back."

With Daddy South Amboy Engine 7

I was from "Stop fighting!"
Which became "Why is daddy packing?"

I am from "What happened to Daddy’s office?"
I am from the Twin Towers

Nikki at Ground Zero Oct. 2001

I am from that little street next to the VFW,
But also that townhouse down in Morganville

Painting Brianna's bedroom Summer 2006

I am from "Time for church!"
From platano's at Abuela’s and ravioli at Gmom’s



Dante, Akyra, Boo, Chewy, and Crash are all a part of me
I am from frogs, frogs, and more of mom’s decorative frogs

Boo & Chewy

I am picnics, Little Tikes houses, and a hammock
From "What foreign country did you help this summer?"

Nikki in Haiti - Nov. 2010

I am from the need to help people,
And talking with my hands to people who don’t speak with their voices

Nikki signing at her grandfather's funeral - 2010

I am from memories on daddy’s camera,
And my family that I love

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Are We Our Brother's Keepers? - Part 1 Receiving

By Steven P. Velasquez, NREMTP, MICP

During paramedic school, I went through a level of economic hardship I've never known till or since then.  I was 830 miles from home, totally unprepared to live on my own, never learned how to balance a check book, manage a budget or pay anything larger than a car payment and my beeper bill (it was the 90s no cell phones yet).  Now, trying to juggle tuition, books, rent, utilities, the truck payment, insurance etc… etc…  I was overwhelmed.  I had been evicted from several apartments, had checks bouncing all over the place, couldn’t pay a traffic summons, then got caught driving on a suspended license which, of course cost my employment too.  My parents did not have the resources to pay my way and I squandered all nine of my years of high school partying instead of learning and perhaps qualifying for a scholarship.

During that period, overwhelmed, depressed and nearly beaten, I had, at the invitation of a loving partner, begun attending a United Methodist Church where I had been introduced to a peaceful man who helped me sort through many struggles.  Pastor Morris taught me a valuable lesson regarding giving and receiving.  With several years of volunteer fire and EMS service under my belt, I knew the joy of giving to those in need.  I thought I was in touch with Christianity by being associated with volunteerism and thus giving.

Greenville Memorial Hosp., Greenville, S.C.
One afternoon I was at the hospital doing my ER rotation and at about two o'clock, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of “I don't want to be here anymore.”  I lied to my clinical coordinator and told her I didn’t feel well and needed to leave.  As I walked across the hospital parking lot, I bumped into none other than – Pastor Morris.  He was on his way in to tend to the infirmed of his flock.  When he saw me, he something in me (perhaps my heart dangling heavily before me) and asked if I wanted to sit & talk for a while.  He sat with me for over two hours and listened to my woes.

Pastor was a wise man with a kind soul.  I had grown up in the Catholic Church and wasn't used to Christian education emitting from a man in blue jeans and a button-down shirt.  His message was also contrary to the grain of my upbringing too.  He wanted to talk to me about “receiving” when my entire life I had always associated Christianity with “giving.”

I told Pastor about the immense internal struggle I faced accepting the support I had received from my fellow students and their families.  Often, they'd take me to their families homes for dinner.  Sometimes they'd come by and invite me out to eat.  When I’d play it off and attempt to dodge the issue by claiming I had to study, they countered, “We didn't ask if you had money.  We invited you to eat.”  They knew I was in dire circumstances and the only thing keeping me from cutting my losses and returning to NJ was my unshakable belief that I will come home a paramedic here and now, not some other time or other place (Yoda’s voice in the background “Do or do not. There is no try”).

Sometimes I'd get to school just after the janitors and find my way to a men's room where I'd wash up before attending class.  I'd borrow a dollar or two and get a Snickers and a soda from the machines.  And that would be it till who knows when.  When I did live with a roommate, we'd dress to the nines on Wednesday nights because it was happy hour (dollar Buds & free buffet till 10) at the local Holiday Inn where there was a DJ.  With a borrowed dollar in hand, we'd get there at five, purchase our dollar Bud and keep that bottle in our hand for a few hours while we raided the buffet table.    OK, so have I painted a sufficient picture of broke yet?

Back to Pastor Morris in the hospital cafeteria; he saw that I was enormously conflicted with being too proud to accept people's charity and too poor to deny it.  He explained to me that often, before becoming big givers of anything in this world, we must first learn, understand and appreciate what it is to be a big receiver first. 

I got to see firsthand that during a time of need, my brothers kept me.  We are our brother's keeper.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Some thoughts on David P. Lemagne, PAPD, UMDNJ, JCMC, UCVAC

By Steven P. Velasquez, NREMTP
September 1, 2011

This post was originally written in a Facebook group honoring the memory of a dear friend and leader in the emergency services field.  David, like so many others, exchanged his life on 11th September, 2001 so that others may live.  His legacy lives on in the collective memories of those of us who knew and loved him.  We keep David, and others, alive by telling and retelling his stories, by displaying his image and by granting access to his family.

This year, on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Union City, NJ will honor David's memory by renaming the street where the David P. Lemagne EMS building is located.  16th St. between New York Ave. and Palisade Ave. will now be known as "David Lemagne Way."  Additionally, the Union City Museum will be unveiling a section focusing on the 9/11 attacks and will now have personal memorabilia of David's proudly on display there.  All are invited by the Lemagne family to join them on September 9, 2011 at 12 p.m. at 16th st. & New York Ave. in Union City for the ceremony.

When I first started with Union City E.M.S., David, a high school student, was a member of the Explorer Post (A youth squad sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America BSA). David was older than the other explorers and showed strong leadership skills even at his tender age of 15.

When we first met, the ambulance corps. was having a carnival to raise funds at Saints. Joseph and Michael Church on Central Ave. in Union City.
St. Joseph and Michael Church
Union City, NJ Photo Courtesy of

We arrived to standby at the event and I parked my van along the center median with David and the other excited explorers in the back. I turned to David and said, "Whatever you do, don't (CRASH-BANG!) -- open that door."  A tad too late.

David had opened the side door right into an oncoming vehicle. The damage cost me about $500.00 and plenty of heartache. That was when and how we first met.  An indelible memory one can assume.

Over the years, I watched David become an EMT, graduate High School, become a Paramedic and a man.

David was a kind soul with a huge smile and a resounding laugh. He was also courageous! I remember we had a maternity call that we took to Palisade General. The patient was full term on her 8th, or so (remember, it's Union City), pregnancy and stated that her water had broke. She showed NO signs of pain, not a wince, a flinch or a peep during the entire transport.

Upon arrival at PGH, the ER staff asked if we'd do them a favor and bring her up to L&D. It wasn't our normal practice but they were busy and we were in good spirits so, we obliged and took the stretcher to the elevator.

The patient was calm and pain free.   Still, no outward signs that delivery might have been imminent! While in the elevator, I'm standing behind the stretcher, unable to move. I asked David to check for crowning. He shoots me a look like "no way, we're almost there." David was an executive board member of the ambulance corps. at the time, so he was wearing his shiny white dress uniform shirt. I asked David a little more emphatically, "Check her for crowning!" I had a gut feeling that something was wrong. Again, David looks at me and motions that he didn't even have gloves on. I shot back a forceful stare (do it!). Reluctantly, David picks up the sheet, his eyes almost fell out of his head.

"Holy Shit! Steve, it's coming out!" he exclaimed.
"Pick it up!!"
"Steve it's totally out!"
"Pick it up!!"

Finally, we arrive at the L&D floor only to be met by a door that requires being buzzed in. I kick, I pound, I'm ringing the buzzer. Meanwhile, mom is hemorrhaging and delivering the placenta and David is just about to throw up.

Some short Philippino nurse with an attitude is on the other side of the window, barely tall enough to be seen.

"Wha' you wan'?"
"Open the door!!" I shouted.
"Wha' you wan'??"

I hold the slimy newborn (still attached to the mother via the umbilical cord) up in the window so she could see it.

"Open the FUCKING DOOR!"

Finally, she let us in and they took care of New Jersey's newest recipient of public assistance! Everyone was fine. The biggest injury was some blood on David's previously clean shirt.

David (right) with the UMDNJ EMS Bike Team

Over the years, young David went on to become a Paramedic, a Tour Chief for Jersey City E.M.S., a Ride Master with UMDNJ's bike team and a Police Officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. I was and am so incredibly proud of all of David's accomplishments.

Last known photograph of David operating at
the World Trade Center the morning of 09-11-2001
On 11th September, 2001, David answered his last call as he bid farewell to his friend Pablo Lopez, threw his morning coffee away, vanished into the PATH station, crossed the Hudson and spent his last hours rescuing who knows how many from the fiery World Trade Center in NYC.

Months later, hundreds gathered to bid farewell to David P. Lemagne. Cops, Pipers, Firefighters, Paramedics and EMT's came from everywhere. One soldier in a U.S. Army uniform, tapped me on the shoulder and looked surprised when I couldn't remember him at a first glance. It was David Kamienski, another UCEMS explorer who was a part of David's group. David Kamienski had been granted leave from his base in Germany to attend this event. I couldn't believe my watery eyes.

The church pews filled and soon it was standing room only. So many of David's former explorer post members were there as cops, firefighters, paramedics and soldiers. The "Latin Little Rascals" as I used to call them had come of age and were now reunited to bid farewell to their brother, their leader.

We gathered that cold November day by the hundreds. We gathered at Saint Joseph and Michael's Church on Central Ave. in Union City.  My opening and closing memory of David remains at the intersections of 14th St. and Central Ave.

We miss you brother.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of God and Geography

by Steven P. Velasquez, MICP, NREMTP
Aug. 22, 2011

Sometimes the EMS calls we go on serve to remind us of how fortunate we are, if we're wise enough to understand the messages, hidden and not. 

One sunny afternoon I was detailed to a critical care transport truck with Bob (Bro) Casey, an MICN or Mobile Intensive Care Nurse.  For those of you not in the EMS field, that is someone who is both a paramedic and a registered nurse.  Working with Bob was always great because he was so smart, so cool and so unshakable that you knew no matter what happened, things would be ok.

We were dispatched to a home in New Brunswick, NJ for a child with difficulty breathing.  As we approached the scene, only a few short blocks from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, who also has a renowned children's hospital, we saw a single police car parked in front of the address.  We called on scene when the front door sprang open and a police officer darted out of the house with a limp baby in his arms.  He was performing chest compressions (CPR).  We grabbed the baby and got into the truck and went to work.  I radioed our dispatch center, “Med –Rescue 4 Urgent!”  No reply.  “Med-Rescue 4 Urgent Traffic!”  I heard field units asking the dispatch center for our last known location as they knew we were in trouble.  Coordinating another unit to assist didn't happen.  The police officer drove our truck and we did our best to resuscitate the baby. 

After dropping him off at the emergency department, we went out and cleaned our truck up and completed our paperwork (a form of documentation using an ink-charged writing implement with hand-written symbols on a carbon based material known as paper, derived from trees before electronic charting).

I thought for a moment that even with the grave circumstances this baby faced, how absolutely fortunate they were, even if reduced to the factor of geography alone.  This family spoke no English, were of Mexican or Central-American descent, I’m assuming were un or under-employed, uninsured and had little more than the roof over their head in the category of assets.  Yet, this very sick baby survived the event and received the best possible care one could ask for, despite their inability to pay for it.

The event caused me to contemplate my fortune in this world.  Born of a mother from Puerto Rico and a father from Peru, my life and future could have had many possible outcomes.   Had my father not trekked to the US in the early 1960s and met my mother, I might exist by another name, another set of circumstances and in a foreign land without access to everything people, even those without means, have here.  My father came here with his minimal life savings and approximately a 6th grade education by American standards.  He worked over thirty years as a laborer in a textile mill in Passaic and married my mother, a bookkeeper. 

"It's going to be ok baby.
You're here."

‘Twas a twist of fate and perhaps the hand of God that brought my father here, introduced him to my mother and gave them their humble start in a small apartment in the City of Passaic and later a house in Rutherford where I grew up and was educated.  Like this little angel, I have benefited so greatly to be born and raised here in the greatest of nations known through the history of man.  I know not what my life would have been like had I been raised elsewhere.  I am relatively certain this baby would not have survived elsewhere.

For parents that chose to live here despite adversity and enormous risks.  For a land of opportunity -- for all. For the best health-care system anywhere on Earth, we're both thankful for God and geography.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"When Amateur's Attack..." - Well, not really. How about when they get caught on camera?

Please click on the link below.  Watch it in its entirety, then read the article below. 

Original video was shot by Jerry McCrea of "The Star Ledger". 

A recent shooting of two people in Boonton, NJ as they walked with their three year-old son has left this Morris County town, and its emergency responders, reeling.  The event triggered the obligatory news coverage including the video linked above above.  

A fellow paramedic called my attention to the video he posted on his Facebook page.  He was deeply disturbed by the video.  There were already over 25 pretty angry responses insulting, shaming and blaming the EMT for perhaps a bit more than she could possibly be responsible for.  There were insults to her speech patterns, calls to remove her certification, eliminate her from the field and some other unsavory comments too. Typical responses from a group of otherwise honorable people who are tired of being misrepresented in the media and on TV - especially by (clearing my throat) "one of our own."

I understood where everyone was coming from as the video delivers yet another (as if we needed it) black eye to the emergency medical services as the casual observer can easily assume she is an accurate representation of EMS as a whole, and we're all cut from the same fabric as this young, amateur provider.  

After careful examination of the video, and being as disgusted with it as they were, there was something else glaring at me and it came from the father side of my equation more-so than my paramedic side.  My reply to the group is included below.

"I'm with all the veteran and experienced providers here, but am also looking at the part that screams out here -- she's a baby. She's 21 and rides in a low-volume, suburban system. Her admissions were not those of a veteran EMS professional with years of service and dozens of traumatic experiences in her toolbox. She's a kid. A kid who saw something frightening and possibly life-changing for her. As a father of a 21 year-old, I often have to look past or forgive the un / under-developed thoughts of my daughter. I run into the circumstance where I can be "right" or I can be a good and patient father. I try for the latter.

To pin all the woes of volunteerism, a poor education system, lack of oversight and standards, the battle between paid and unpaid and the unsolvable problem of male pattern baldness on the unrefined words of a little girl, I think, may be just a bit extreme.

Sure it was painful to watch and listen to. She should have deferred to someone else with either the experience or the authority to make a representative statement. She probably didn't know what to do, shit or go blind when a camera and mic appeared before her. She lacked the equanimity that a cadre of speech-writers and a room full of teleprompters offer our president (Sorry Shaq, I couldn't help it. You know I'm teasing!)

She's not the worst representative of an incident I've seen on screen. One only has to go back to late December 2010 when the NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg (not a 21 year-old) made an ass of himself criticizing and slapping the very EMS professionals that endured the insurmountable task of responding to the blizzard of all blizzards.

As stated, what she said was wrong in so many ways and embarrassing in even more ways, maybe I'm the one who's wrong here, but guys, she's a kid. Nothing more."
I suppose my point is this.  If you're new to the biz, are not a designated PIO (Public Information Officer), have no experience with media relations, don't fall into the trap of opening your yap.  "No comment." or "Please direct your questions to..." work just fine.

To my veteran brothers and sisters I'll summon a Chinese proverb; 'Do not remove a fly from your friend's head with a hatchet.'   This EMT, if she remains in the field, is going to have to live her life as being "that girl."  The one who fell apart, abandoned a patient, made unqualified statements about the presence or absence of life of the patient etc...  Her life, like all of ours, is not summed up in one moment in time.  Her life, like ours, should be judged on nothing less than its' entirety.

What say you?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Question Is - 'Why Do I Want To Be A Paramedic?'

By Devin Kerins, B.A., MICP
Aug. 13, 2011

So you passed your EMT class, found an ambulance to climb aboard and are now contemplating taking the plunge into the next phase of EMS?  Or perhaps you're a 'seasoned pro'  EMT who is wondering if you should advance your career?  Either way, you're probably wondering when the time is right.  It's a huge commitment in time, with great responsibilities and even greater personal reward, but whether or not the time is right is never an automatic 'yes.'  So let's start by examining the most important patient of all -- you! 

The first question you need to ask yourself is "Why did I want to be a paramedic?  We all have our own reasons for getting into EMS.  Some get into it out of a genuine altruistic desire to help people. Some get into it because it's a great stepping stone to a career as a nurse or physician.  If you're like me, you got into it because you get to drive a flashy truck, scoff at major traffic laws, and chicks dig the uniform.  Okay, well that isn't entirely true.  But I did want to help people and did want to go to medical school -- we'll just gloss over the fact that I failed organic chemistry miserably.  But ask yourself, why do you want to be a paramedic?  Do you want to do it because of a need to do more for your patients?  Do you want to do it because it is a logical progression in career?  Do you want to do it because the pay is better and you want to provide for your family?  Whatever your reason, hold onto it, because it will be your driving motivation through the arduous medic program.  Just make sure your reasons for wanting to be a medic are strong and rational enough to push you through the next two thousand hours of school and clinical time.

Next you need to question yourself and see "How much experience do I really have?" Is the ink still dryin on your EMT card?  If so, now might not be the right time for you.  Sure, you can find a paramedic program who will gladly accept you and take your money, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right thing to do.  As Groucho Marx said, "I wouldn't want to be part of any club who would have me as a member" -- it shouldn't be that easy.  Give yourself some time to learn the basics first.  Experience some stressful situations and see how you react.  Watch someone die and see how it affects you (Please note: I am in no way advocating you do anything to hasten that one along).  No one in EMS has ever seen it all and done it all, but you can see a lot and do a lot, and it's important to see and do as much as possible to know how you'll react in stressfull situations.  Remember, as stressful as you think being an EMT is, there isn't much you can do to kill a patient -- short of running them over with the ambulance or tossing them down a flight or two of staris.  As a paramedic, you truly hold someone's life in your hands.  If you think that's dramatic, give a read through all of the various medications and procedures paramedics carry and can perform and see how easily at least half of those could terminate someone's existence.

Finally, ask yourself "what kind of student am I?"  If you just barely eeked by in EMT school because you never opened your book or human resources policies prevented the school from failing you out, now is definitely not the time for you.  If you can't remember what kind of student you were because it has been so long since you were in a formal education setting, now might be the time for you but I'd recommend doing some research on better studying techniques.  If you have a thirst for knowledge, and a realistic appreciateion of how much of your life has to be devoted to passing your class, then this is the right time for you.  Paramedic school requires a lot of studying.  You owe it to yourself and your future patients to make it your top priority for the next two years to study you trade and hone your skills.

Once you've done the above soul-searching, look at your current situation in life tnd see if you can devote the time you'll need to school.  If the answer is a resounding 'no', do not force yourself.  Wait for you situation to change, and try to learn as much as possible from the paramedics around you in the meantime.  If the answer is a 'maybe' it might shock you to read me say "go ahead and do it!"  Unless you absolutely, positively cannot do it at this particular moment, I strongly encourage you to go for it if there is a chance.  If not, something in life will inevitably come along to derail your motivation train.  There will always be money problems, there will always be family problems, but you need to push through if you think there is a chance.  Otherwise, you'll watch you opportunity waltz right by.

This blog isn't meant to discourage anyone from being a paramedic.  It is to set you up with some manageable expectations.  Paramedic school isn't brain surgery, but it isn't a walk in the park.  It can be a lot of information to process, but it's not organic chemistry (who doesn't love call-back jokes?).  But above all else, paramedic school requires a major commitment of you.  Make sure that you are ready to fulfill that commitment with the very essence of your being.  Peoples' lives really do depend upon you now, and you need to takle that seriously. 

Having said all that, good luck with your decision.  And regardless of whether or not you decide to go on to paramedic school, be the best EMT you can possibly be!

Devin Kerins is a 17 year veteran of emergency services in New Jersey.  He has been a paramedic for the past 8 of those.  He is also a career emergency manager, serving as the Planning Section Chief for a regional incident management team.  He has parlayed his love of the job, eye for detail, and sarcastic humor into writing.  His books of EMS anecdotes "EMS: The Job of Your Life" and "EMS 2: The Life of Your Job are cult classics among EMT's and paramedics around the country.  His novels "Aim High" and "Lotto Fever" are also available online. 


Monday, August 8, 2011

Harley Therapy - "The Summer Wind" and Riders Errant

by Steven P. Velasquez
Aug. 8, 2011

This past weekend I found myself in an unfamiliar position. My calendar was clear; no work, no teaching, no family obligations. One daughter, Nicolette (15) was in Phoenix, AZ with her mother at a fine arts festival and my youngest, Brianna (4) was with her mother in Boston, MA for a weekend getaway. As always, there was plenty of opportunity to pick up shifts at one of my employers but, like a recovering addict at a bar, I said no and removed myself from the situation. My calendar was clear but my mind was not. It was time for some Harley therapy.

In my traditional form, I mounted Rocinante, my trusty steed, and headed in a direction dictated solely by happenstance. That direction was south and this rider errant, "the Medic of La Mancha," was off on yet another two-wheeled adventure.

I packed what I could fit in my saddlebags; some books, my laptop, my camera equipment and even some clothes and toiletries.

About 75 miles into the trip, I left the Garden State Parkway (no real reason why) and entered the town of Smithville, NJ which, according to the welcome sign, has been here since 1637!  I felt like I had gone through a window in time.  You'll see why shortly. It's an absolutely gorgeous day with temps climbing into the 80's.  I traveled down Route 9 and visited a local Wawa. While outside the store enjoying an enormous Granny Smith apple, my mind began to wonder; how is it possible this is the same Route 9 that runs through the Newark and Jersey City areas? Route 9, home of hot sheet motels, heroin and homicides is also home to the summer's scent of salt water, the sound of seagull's and steeples tall (on churches that is).

Seagull's weren't the only crooners on this day. A brown Mercury is parked before me with its windows down and the stereo blaring. The sounds, strangely not annoying, were familiar, but of an era not mine. "Old Blue Eyes" (Frank Sinatra) is belting out "The Summer Wind" and the driver, an older man, is seated seemingly transfixed, waxing nostalgic, probably of summer's gone by.

A pickup truck parks and a man with a weathered face and a distinct southern twang sees me looking at a map. Unsolicited he asks where I’m headed. “No idea,” I replied. “Cape May Ferry perhaps?" He offers me directions, south on 9 till I get to a country club, then go right on Jimmy Lee’s till you see the Parkway. "How polite" I thought. I asked where he’s from. He replies; “Texas.” I asked what brings a man from Texas to New Jersey? “My wife" he said. Jokingly I counter, “Are you still mad at her?” He didn’t smile. He drew a breath and replied; “She’s passed.” YOU IDIOT! I thought to myself  as I seemingly shrank to the size of an action figure. (I actually envisioned my mortified mother whacking me about the head repeatedly with her chancleta (slipper)) He seemed to forgive my gaffe and stared intently at my bike. By my estimates, his stare was 10% admiration and 90% nostalgia as he pleasantly relived his own riding history.

Today, he works as a boat mechanic and remains in NJ because of his family and grandchildren. His mind however, still lives upon his Indian motorcycle traveling across six states decades ago. He readily regaled me with some of his favorite encounters. I could tell as he spoke he was no longer here and, as if I were a ghost, he didn't even see me standing before him. I wasn't offended. He was "in the zone."  I fully understand that phenomena. Because, like a young fool, I often try to explain it to others. But, like trying to describe what a banana split tastes like to a blind person, it's something one can only appreciate after living, tasting and feeling it. It is an experience reserved for people like us, the rider's errant.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please welcome guest blogger Devin Kerins, B.A., MICP

Please help me welcome a colleague, friend and literary talent to the "Granting Sirenity" team.  Devin Kerins has agreed to submit some periodic postings to our growing blog.  

Devin Kerins is a 17 year veteran of emergency services in New Jersey. He has been a paramedic for the past 8 of those. He is also a career emergency manager, serving as the Planning Section Chief for a regional incident management team. He has parlayed his love of the job, eye for detail, and sarcastic humor into writing. His books of EMS anecdotes "EMS: The Job of Your Life" and "EMS 2: The Life of Your Job" are cult classics among EMTs and paramedics around the country. His novels "AIM HIGH" and "Lotto Fever" are also available online.

You can leave a message for Devin here or email him directly at

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Just Love Distracted People!

By Steven P. Velasquez
August 1, 2011

I'm sitting here in the Livingston Diner trying to calm my nerves before going into work tonight.  My coordination betrays me as I've survived yet another, if not "near-death" then at the very least "near maim" experiences.

It's a beautiful summer day with temps in the 80's, a brilliant sun and perfect traffic patterns as I trek northward to the land of the affluent, Livingston, NJ.  While motoring along on "Rocinante" (my trusty iron steed made by Harley Davidson), following traffic laws, wearing protective gear, sober and well-rested, I signaled that I was moving into the right lane.  A quick glance at the mirror and a brief look over one's shoulder is usually enough to verify the coast is clear and you can proceed safely.  I did however; mention this is New Jersey where motorists tend to violate not only motor vehicle laws, but often the laws of physics too.  The most common law being broken is the one where "matter cannot occupy the same space."  In the instant that my eyes returned to the forward position, a car appeared suddenly on my right causing me, on my already leaning bike, to tap the brake, upright and quickly scan for options on my left - of which there were now none.  A shiny white BMW saw my mild gesture to the right and obsessively blasted her accelerator to immediately occupy my now partially vacant spot.

Both brakes are now engaged, my deft (no, not left!) foot quickly down-shifting, the engine roaring, my pupils dilating whilst every sphincter of my tense body constricts preparing for the seemingly inevitable!  I was close enough to manually unlock her door if I had to.  Fortunately, I was able to avoid dire consequences and a trip to visit Dr. Jellyfinger and the broken bone team at my local trauma center, with only the beads of sweat on my forehead.  Whew!

Me before ending up under your car
At the next stop-light, I pulled up alongside the privileged beauty (she was gorgous I'll admit) and took advantage of her open window.  I mustered the most menacing face I could make and yelled "I have three beautiful daughters!"  (I know, real bad-ass right?  I'm considering auditioning for "Sons Of Anarchy").  "What?" she replied as she put down the cell-phone and lowered the radio.  "I said I have three beautiful daughters!  Your aggressive driving is going to kill someone!  I want you to know who's life you're taking!"  I guess it now registered in her distracted, little mind that I was a lunatic and perhaps dangerous.  She began rolling her window up and looking to get away from me. "Dumb bitch" I thought aloud.

I often get to see not just the carnage caused by people like her, but the shattered people that cause the problem in the first place as they're overrun with remorse and pain often bellowing out "I'm sorry!" or perseverating "I didn't see him, I didn't see him..."  How hard is it to just avoid the circumstance in the first place?  Is it really so hard to drive attentively? Share the road?  Think before you act?  All of these, to me, seem much easier, but then again, I have a stable career because of such behavior.  I'd just really rather remain a patient care provider vs. a patient. 

Alright, the tremors are gone.  Check has arrived.  I'm off to work.  Please drive safely and watch for motorcyclists.