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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.