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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Audacity To Charge

The Audacity To Charge

Over 20 years ago, I moved to another state to attend paramedic school.  While there, one of the many jobs I had was working for a psychiatrist in a group home for troubled adolescents.  I was over 800 miles from home, flat broke and uninsured for the first time in my young life.  Having worked as an EMT in North Jersey for several years, I had grown accustomed to occasionally asking a Dr. friend if they could write me a prescription for an antibiotic (for example), to deal with what was ailing me at the time. Some would oblige.


One time I had gotten a pretty mean sinusitis and upper respiratory infection and was unable to pay for a full medical exam etc..., I tried to call in what appeared to be an innocuous favor from my boss.  I asked if he could whip out a script for me. He seemed upset, or more so let down with my query and instead, like a good psychiatrist would, offered me a lecture.  He explained that my request, in my mind, may seem simple:  

  1. Go ask the good doctor for a favor,
  2. Watch good doctor whip out prescription pad and apply ink and signature to said pad.
  3. Go purchase Rx.
  4. Take Rx.
  5. Voila, I'm on the road to recovery!
Simple right?  Wrong!  Carefully, but still a little miffed, he pointed out that the process would take but a minute of his time and little to no effort to move that pen across that pad, thus making my life a whole lot easier, not to mention cost effective.  However -- what I was not taking into consideration was the fact that that man went to school for an enormously long time to EARN the privilege of being a licensed physician and thus have the right to prescribe medications.

That certainly was not the answer I wanted then.  I meant no insult.  I just wanted to feel better and not have to pay for it. The doctor however, was one hundred percent right.  His "privilege" required a "process," one that most could or would not do, for one reason or another. One that required time, effort and expertise.  This is why he was an MD - and I - was not.

Today, in addition to being a paramedic and an educator, I'm a photographer.  A person who carries a camera wherever he/she goes, sees beauty in things and then creatively captures that beauty in a frame, over a fraction of a second in time and preserves that beauty for decades to come.  Some photographers display their work and yes, some of us (gasp) have the audacity to charge for it!

During my time in the emergency services, I've heard the classic, and seemingly endless argument between volunteers and professionals (i.e. compensated) that professionals are profiteers and are somehow soulless because they accept money for what others do for free, out of compassion and genuine concern for the human race.  In other words, to accept money for anything, immediately negates the altruism or inherent good within that compassionate act.  My response to such nonsense has been this;

Volunteer vs. Paramedic
 "Do you love this profession enough to do it at an experts level?  To be held to higher standards? To regularly be supervised and audited?  Do you love this enough to work for the pauper's salary it comes with?  Do you love this enough to work at it more than twice the hours per week that other careers do and for a fraction of the income?  If not, then please get off the cross, someone else needs the wood."

No one who works with me in prehospital medicine can state, with any degree of truth, that my work is without compassion, without humanity or without a soul.

I take that same level of compassion into my photography, my art.  What began as a pastime over 25 years ago has grown to more than a hobby, more than something I pick up on occasion to kill time or diversify myself with.  Today, my cameras come with me virtually everywhere.  I see the world in frames.  I see the beauty in flowers, insects, babies, puppies and pain.  Yes, you read it right pain.  For over two decades, I've captured and showcased some of the most painful events in our (the EMS community's) time.  I've been to more funerals than I'd care to remember, preserved the moments, the faces and places and helped people ameliorate their pain with a portrait - of a moment - in time.  

That said, I have always had to endure the scrutiny of those who don't understand what I do (photojournalism) or what my intentions are. I get unfairly lumped in with the "paparazzi," when all the work I've ever done was to preserve, protect and illustrate the honor, the importance and nobility of what we do and who we (in EMS) are. 

Following whatever engagement I shoot, I'll post my art on my SmugMug page. There, my work can be displayed, linked to, shared publicly or privately, emailed and yes -- PURCHASED.  One can purchase prints, enlargements, key-chains, coffee mugs among other things.  SmugMug works as an office assistant in the background and does most of the work for me.  On occasion, if someone does buy my art, I receive a small percentage back in my pocket through my PayPal account. And this little factoid drives some people crazy.  (Gasp!) The son of a bitch is charging?  Profiting on people's pain?

Please! Yes, I'm making millions off others' pain.  That's why I work over 80 to 100 hours a week - every week. I'm just rolling in it.

It's difficult to hear from my brothers and sisters in EMS where most of them began as volunteers, then progressed to professionals (compensated), and had to listen to the nonsense mentioned earlier about their endeavors.  "You're making MONEY on someone else's misfortune! Youuuu dirty...."  What is the difference people?  You begin dabbling with something, you spend years sharpening your skills, your sword, your craft and then you get good enough to be audacious - to charge!  You make an income from it.  Large or small, whatever it is, it is, but you EARN based upon your time, your effort, your expertise!

Much like my request to the doctor years ago, what seemed like a simple act (writing a quick script) was in fact an insult to the privilege this man earned through a process (his labor) he endured over time.  I have spent over twenty five years behind a lens.  I have thousands invested in cameras, lenses, lighting, tripods, books, classes, computers, software, backup media, off-site storage, insurances and more.  Yet people think nothing of asking; "Hey, can you just burn me a copy of those images?  Just email them to me? Send me a DVD?"  Would you ask that of your ______ (fill in the blanks)?  Try it and let me know how that works for you?  Or would you accept that request for whatever your profession is?  Most of you would not.

The work I produce is not made with a cell phone camera and an Instagram account.  I've spent a lifetime developing the little skill I posses.  There is no shame in having the audacity to charge. 

Funeral of Paramedic David Restuccio - NYC EMS Paramedic

Thursday, November 22, 2012

When she was a little girl...

by Steven P. Velasquez
November 22, 2012

Nicolette, my first born (now 16)
When she was a little girl, every holiday was celebrated at her grandparents' house.  Whether we were up in the Pocono's with Pop Pop and Grandmom or in Rutherford at Abuela and Abuelo's house.  Regardless,  the food was always delicious, the house warm and the family -- beloved.

Abuela's Thanksgiving ham

When she was a little girl, I used to hold her little hand and cross her across this street. 

Today, for the first time, 
I watched her park her mother's car in front of Abuela's house.

When she was a little girl, I used to pick her up out of her child seat from my vehicle and throw her over my shoulder with a blankie.

I'd hold her close and listen to her breathe while protecting her from the cold.  Today, she lets herself in and out of the car on her own, and from the driver's seat (no more booster).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ambulance Aides Mourn Loss

Ambulance Aides Mourn Loss

by Steven P. Velasquez, MICP
November 20, 2012

The headline above is a direct  stab at the irresponsible media outlets that have had over thirty five years to learn who we, in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), are.  It appears that even if we sacrifice our lives (or have them taken from us), these drones, who insist on ridiculous politically correct terms for everyone but us, can't get it right. We are not ambulance attendants, ambulance aides, stretcher tenders, ambulance drivers or, as we were so shamefully bunched during the attacks of September 11, 2001 - first responders.  We are your municipalities third service. We are an extension of the hospitals. We are mobile health services. We are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), Paramedics (MICP) and Registered Nurses (R.N.'s).  We are an essential part of the trinity of public protection, Police, Fire and EMS.  We have earned that distinction through sacrifice, compassion and service to mankind and sometimes we earn it with our blood or ultimate sacrifice.  During this past week, our service has been dealt several devastating blows and now we have lost one of our brothers.

The following is an attempt to journal a sad page in EMS history that is currently being written here in Newark, New Jersey's largest city. 

An unfortunate series of events unfolded Monday, November 19th as shots rang  out, lives were lost, police cars crashed, Troopers gave chase through busy daytime traffic, and a fleeing suspect vehicle crashed into an ambulance killing 30 year-old Keith Chipepo, an EMT working for Grand Medical Transportation (GMT) of Irvington, NJ.  Chipepo was reportedly ejected from the patient compartment of his ambulance while caring for a patient who fortunately was strapped to a stretcher and thus left uninjured.  Chipepo's partner, who was driving, is reported to have sustained fractures to several extremities, but has been released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.

Tuesday night, several EMS agencies visited a make-shift memorial at the intersections of South Orange Ave. and South 9th St., where the fatal multi-vehicle collision occurred.  Agencies that can often appear polarized (transport vs. 911 services), though we carry the same certifications, set aside petty differences and parked their vehicles silently beside a humble roadside memorial made of candles, balloons, some memorabilia and a water colored painting to Daddy, -- from Chipepo's children.

Roadside memorials are all too common a sight in the Brick City.  They mark where families are destroyed, lives are lost and pain remains.  This humble site will soon be removed as time waits for no one and vigils pass in a single breath.

Paramedic Nicole Ackerman (UHEMS) looks over the memorial
EMS agencies from Union Township, MONOC, Elizabeth F.D. EMS, GMT (Grand Medical Transport), Guardian Ambulance, Nationwide Ambulance, LifeStar, Madison Coach and several units from University Hospital's EMS Dept. each stopped and paid respect to the memory and the sacrifice made by EMT Keith Chipepo.

This is the second fatal accident in a week involving the NJ State Police and EMS personnel.  The first occurred on Saturday Nov. 10th at Central and Norfolk Streets where a chase that originated on Rte. 280 spilled onto local streets, crashed into a UHEMS paramedic unit and killed an innocent pedestrian, also in his thirties and also of Montclair, NJ.  This author was the driver of that ambulance.  

To receive news of a second collision with such similar circumstances, in the same place has shocked many.  Some, who believe in bad things happening in threes, are waiting for the next devastating blow.  We hope this does not happen and pray for all affected by these recent tragedies. 

Funeral arrangements for EMT Keith Chipepo are forthcoming.  To anyone in emergency services, we ask that you please attempt to be there.  Show Keith's family and children how much he is loved and appreciated and that his life, in the service of mankind is worth something and will not be forgotten.

Rest In Peace Brother - Your work here is done. Last alarm 19th November 2012.
A Thanksgiving turkey made with watercolors, glued feathers and his children's names

Sunday, November 11, 2012

MIC 3 Give Me the Air!

MIC 3 Give Me the Air!

(pronounced as mick)

by Steven P. Velasquez
November 11, 2012

"MIC 3 Urgent!! Give me the air!!" 

(A paramedic's voice panting and confused, only able to process the name of one of the two intersecting streets they're on)  

"I'm on Central and... (long pause) 
I'm just east of 1st Street....  (another pause) 
MIC 3 I'm on Central Ave...." (radio silence)

Dispatcher - "Units clear the air! MIC 3, your location!?  Are you injured!?" 
(The sound of a microphone keying up, but only labored breathing is heard).  

Dispatcher - "MIC 3 repeat your last!!"

This is the kind of radio transmission that no one in public safety wants to hear.  A unit, clearly in distress and disoriented is calling for help but can't clear their thoughts enough to articulate a clear message.  Their vehicle has been struck by another, at a high rate of speed and redirected into a tree.

Green means it's safe right?
Paramedic educator / legend John Nichol is said to have told his students;

 "The most dangerous place to be in Newark, is at a green light."  

 He told them this truism because of the ridiculous amount of auto-theft and subsequent collisions that follow from joy riding, to car-jacking, to police pursuits.  Last night, Nichol's pearls of wisdom proved true for this author in particular.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Seasons Change - In the "Borough of Trees"

Seasons Change - In the "Borough of Trees"

by Steven P. Velasquez
October 22, 2012 

Today's absolutely gorgeous weather and a clear calendar made the perfect storm for a brief photowalk in my hometown of Rutherford, NJ.  I had finished some errands and was contemplating picking up a night shift at one of my employers.  I was equally balancing my desire to not work and just take a night to myself to go out, like normal people do.

The delightful sights, sounds and ambient temperature lured me to Rutherford's downtown area to shoot some shots of things going on.  Rutherford is known as "The Borough of Trees" for obvious reasons.  So the months of October and November become a deciduous delight to the casual observer and visual potpourri  to those armed with a single-lens reflex camera.

St. Mary High School - Rutherford, NJ
I loaded an 80's themed Internet radio station on my phone to set the sights to music and so they did.  I felt as if I had traveled through time and was back on the tree-lined streets of my childhood, heading to school.  As a teen, I went to a Catholic School (St. Mary) until my sophomore year.  I remember my mother, frustrated by my lackluster performance, yelling; "You are now going to Rutherford High School.  You can fail there for free!"

Don't hate. I was sucking badly and costing my family a fortune. She was right. So I attended, and eventually graduated from, the two great high schools of Rutherford.

As I approached my old school and church beside it, the places I would play and pray, I began raising my lens and grabbing some shots.  The church has had a major renovation that is truly something to behold.  I couldn't explain the tears that welled up in my eyes as I remembered serving there as an altar-boy under Father's Jude, Michaelzak and Reilly (forgive me if I've misspelled any of their names).  Through my tears, I saw a young version of myself on the steps of the church in my little robe, eager to serve and be smiled upon by God herself  (Was I the only kid who absolutely loved the taste of those communion wafers??).

St. Mary's R.C. Church
As I shot and backed up into the street, a priest approached me.  I expected to be questioned as to my intentions with a camera near their church and school.  There were none.  He greeted me and was very touched to speak to a former parishioner and altar-boy  He had informed me of the passing of Father Reilly (several years ago) and it saddened me to hear that news.  He also told me of the great renovations and future projects they were working on.  It all sounded exciting.  We said our farewells and parted.

My lens kept clicking and I suppose the school day's end had arrived.  The school doors opened and all the uniformed youngsters came pouring out.  They looked so cute! The image gave way to a flood of happy memories as they ran around the same buildings and driveways I once did.

The new face of St. Mary's

Then a car pulls up  before me and all I can see is the DOT approved, day-glo yellow jacket inside.  A voice emits from the car; "Can I help you?"  Click, click, click. "Can... I... help you!?" His voice raising.  My angered eye emerged from behind the eyepiece and I replied (politely of course) "No you may not..." And I called him by name.  He re-examined my face and focused on the shield hanging from my necklace (a symbol that I'm a good guy, a public servant).  "Oh my God, Steve I didn't recognize you.  It's been so many years..."  Who he/she was is of no importance. The fact that I was suddenly, somehow suspect just for being around a school was my impetus for writing as I was initially somewhat offended.

My initial impulse was to challenge the day-glo voice for interrogating me in the first place.  "What do you mean 'can I help you?'  I'm standing, uninfirmed, holding a camera.  Do I strike you as someone in need of your 'help?'"  (all of this passes one's mind in fractions of a second). My familiarity with his face and responsibility immediately tempered me.

Then my parental side chimes in.  I'm the father of three daughters.  My life would end if harm befell any of them.  Recent news in this local area reports of several attempted abductions and approaches to children by strangers.Thank God there are still people in places that take public safety seriously and challenge the unfamiliar.  This was not about the color of my skin, my choice of clothing, the pronunciation of my name or anything news agencies salivate over.  These once seemingly safe streets, these tree-lined safe streets where I spent all my childhood days and nights playing and praying, are safe no more.  There are people who want to harm our children and bring sadness to our families and so, the seasons have in fact, changed.

I long for the days of safety, I miss the endless bicycle rides and the sounds of my friends,  beneath the orange, red, green and yellow canopy of protection, in the borough of trees.

 Station Square - NJ Transit Train Station - Rutherford, NJ


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Back On the Chain Gang

August, 15, 2012
by Steven P. Velasquez

“They're going to put y’all back in chains.”  (Vice President of our country and President Obama's 'Chief of Gaff' Joe Biden)

The great panderer Joe Biden addressed a group of Virginian's yesterday, first with his pandering, then with his all too common, and often offensive, blundering. 

First, the Veep addressed the crowd as "Y'all" (not Biden's speech pattern EVER, except of course when pandering).  Y'all, south of the Mason Dixon line, is a southerner's endearing way of saying "you all" (that's a contraction for the publicly schooled).  Here in NJ, a group might be addressed as "you guys" or "you's guys" depending on the region.  In Obama speak, he refers to everyone as "folks," almost to a fault.  He drives me  a little crazy when he uses that term.  In fact, I believe  had O been a founding father, we might have evolved as a nation "Of the folks, by the folks and for the folks," but I digress.  Optionally, some may hear the ever-inflammatory "you people" as Ross Perot learned once upon a 1992 campaign speech, to none other than the NAACP.  Actor and film-maker Adam Sandler hysterically capitalized on people's sensitivities in his box office smash "Anger Management,"  which earned his character an embarrassing tazing aboard a jet-liner.

I'm of the opinion that Vice President Biden is suffering from residual brain damage from his two brain aneurysms that once earned him his "last rights" and since may have left him a bit uninhibited.  The man has no filter and is unable to restrain himself socially.  If he is not affected by that, as the cause for the gaff-machine's daily blunders, then he is just a less than sane, and questionably crazy individual unworthy of our nation's second highest office.

Either way, the man is unfit for this position and certainly is not the person I would want with his unrestrained finger on the nuclear button. I'm beginning to think the Secret Service should keep a tazer at the ready for any time the veep speaks.

It would be hysterical if it weren't so very sad.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Angry Rabbits

by Steven Velasquez
July 7, 2012

A photographer can only claim to be one when they are ever ready to capture the moment.  They often have their equipment within an arms reach at all hours of the day and night.  They make awkward guests at your party because while everyone is laughing, dancing, drinking or frolicking about, they're up in the rafters composing their next shot, the party masterpiece.  They brazenly place their silly lens in your or your guest's face, sometimes much to your dismay.  You, not being a supermodel, feel uncomfortable and sometimes try to avoid them and their creepy cameras. Sometimes, they can be quite the nuisance!  And sometimes they're the authors of your photographic legacy.  They have masterfully and creatively bent light, isolated time, captured a moment in just a way that leaves you -- and others breathless.  They have composed an image that may serve as a family heirloom for generations to come.  And now, you suddenly find yourself in that discomforting position of saying "thank you" to the "creepy camera guy" (CCG) in your life.  

This is a story of a CCG (yours truly) on a beautiful summer afternoon, with his two angels 16 and 5.

The water temperature on the Delaware read 80 degrees.  The temperature in the truck on the way there was in the 90's.  The two daughters were anxious and excited about spending time with their Creepy Camera Daddy (CCD) on a canoe trip together.  Bundled in their life vests and very apprehensive about getting into the canoe and launching for the first time, they both questioned CCD if he knew what he was doing.  "I don't like canoes" said the little one.  "Don't be silly, the river is only three feet deep according to the sign here.  If something happened, you could just stand up! Plus you've been going to swim lessons, so I'm sure you'll be fine."  Little one slowly nodded her head as if she only partially trusted her father's words.

"I don't like canoeing Daddy."
So they loaded their boat with oars, their persons and some minor incidentals.  For the important items (phones, keys, wallets, cameras) CCD thought ahead, and brought Zip-Lock bags.  Off into the summer sun they went.  "Stroke. Stroke. Stroke" said the father to his princesses.  He taught them how to steer the boat left, right, forward and back.  He emphasized how important maintaining balance was.  They picked up quickly and seemed to begin to relax a bit.  Once that began, it was time to (you guessed it) shoot some great shots!  The family gently floated beneath hovering hawks, some white puffy clouds and a canopy of trees.  Click, inspect, adjust.  Click, inspect, adjust is the routine algorithm  of the digital photographer.  Always composing, always adjusting, always clicking -- in search of "the one."

A little distracted with his eye behind the lens and planning to really capture some stunning shots, CCD continued.  The very anxious, newly 16 year-old began to chatter away questioning which way they should go.  CCD remembered the writing on the side of the bus said that we should paddle to the "Um, uhh... either the left or right, I forget,  Who cares? It all goes to the same place!  Stop whining."  The little one was making comments about "angry rabbits" or some nonsense.  "Let her enjoy her fantasies while she's still young enough to" he thought. So, without much thought CCD said, "Right.  Let's go right. I'm pretty sure that's what I saw on the side of the bus."  And right they went.

He teased his daughters mercilessly acting like he was shouting to someone across the river on the Jersey side.  "What? What's that? Go left? Dangerous? No one has ever made it? Dead man's what?"  "Stop it!" The daughters screamed in unison.  He belly laughed while churning the shallow water with his paddle.

"What's that noise?" asked the oldest.  You could hear the sound of rapidly rolling water slapping against rocks.  "It's the angry rabbits" said the youngest. CCD put his camera back in its canvas bag but had no time for zip-locks or angry rabbits.  Some quick decisions needed to be made.  They were immediately upon some rough rapids ahead and the girls were panic-stricken.  "Daddy I don't know what to do!" cried the oldest. "Hold on" he yelled!

Boom! The boat was immediately thrown on its' side.  Daddy, daughters and personal belongings thrown asunder and the canoe was quickly going under.  Like a soldier saving his M-16, CCD tried to get his head above water and hold his camera bag above it.  Clearing the river water from his eyes, he looked toward the screams of his daughters and tried reaching them but couldn't move accurately with the rapid water consistently wanting to take him under.  "Daddy she's getting away!" cried the older.  The younger was on her belly and rapidly pulling away from the capsized canoe.  "Get your sister!" The older reached back and latched onto the younger's life vest.  "Get back to the boat.  Hold onto the boat!" "I can't!" exclaimed the older; tears running down her face.  The weight of her sister pulling away from her, the pain of the multiple lacerations across her legs from the river rocks, the increasing weight of the sinking canoe as it took on more and more water, were too much for the 16 year-old to bear.

CCD lunged forward and fell, camera bag and all, into the drink again and again tearing up his legs along the river rocks below.  He grabbed the younger's life jacket with one arm and the boat with the other.  "Stand up. Try to stand up."  The entire event lasted maybe two minutes but felt like hours.  Every muscle aching and straining to drag the water-laden canoe to shore and off in the distance, like Wilson in the movie "Cast Away," was one red duffle-bag floating rapidly down stream.  In it, CCD's wallet, ATM card, cash, his and his teen's phones and some other incidentals.

They dragged the canoe to shore and tilted it over while little one cried on the shore about the "angry rabbits."  "I told you this was going to happen. I told you I don't like canoes or the angry rabbits."  We finally calmed the younger down and brushed her hair out of her eyes.  She looked pathetic missing a water shoe and older missing both.  The "angry rabbits" she kept alluding to, when you listened carefully, were the angry rapids.  She was tuned into the rapids the entire time and CCD thought she was imagining a story she read in school or something with unhappy bunnies.

A critical point was reached.  The family needed to decide whether this was a bad idea, it's too dangerous and they should abort & go home, or, like a rider who's fallen from their steed, get back on and ride again.  CCD's camera, lenses and speed-flash were all water-logged and presumed dead.  Admittedly, this hurt him but it wasn't the primary thought in his mind. The fresh images in his head of his crying daughters and the water pulling them away from him while he couldn't get to them were playing again and again.  This event could have had many outcomes (far more painful than a couple thousand dollars of camera equipment).  He took the canvas bag and placed it behind a tree covered in some bushes, then looked up on the Pennsylvania side for a landmark to remember, for when he returned to pick up his soggy setup.

No longer able to capture the moment.  CCD was no longer creepy and no longer had a camera.  He became - just Daddy.

"Angry rabbits" ahead!
Daddy and his now safe daughters launched the canoe again and with a sense of purpose, took the remaining paddles (one adult and one child) and began heading down stream.  Their exit from this watery nightmare depended largely on their ability to find that red bag.  Fortunately a family they met on the bus found it and stopped their travels until they could reach them.  Unfortunately, the bag with the phones did not maintain a seal.  Both phones and thus their ability to communicate or call for help were gone.  This put the family in a very awkward position.  They were forced to work and communicate together, isolated from Facebook, email, the Internet and its' search engines.  They had to manually move their boat down stream and talk to each other face to face.

Despite the adversity and capital loss, my daughters and I had a wonderful day together.  We learned valuable lessons and when we consider the other possible outcomes that could have been... thank God that we were spared, kept whole and returned home as a family.  I am a healthy, strong man with strong convictions.  I'm unafraid of hard work.  I will work and I will rebuild -- and I will be creepy once again.

I've taught my daughters that "We love people and buy things -- not the other way around."  I saw that posted on my daughter's Facebook page earlier and almost cried.  Like her little sister who remembered to kick her feet and keep her head above water, the older appears to have learned some valuable lessons too.

To Samantha, Nicolette and Brianna - I love you each with all my heart and all my strength and all my love.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Striking Distance

by Steven P. Velasquez
June 29, 2012

The sound of bells, buzzers, perhaps a lover's or child's voice; maybe even a rooster's crow in some places, are all sounds by which to wake; some more desirable than others.   Well my partner, aside from occasionally crowing about whatever his transient topic of the moment is, serves none of those purposes.

There, tucked away in a county park, awaiting our possible activation into another's personal nightmare we sat.  It's been a great couple of days with balmy temps in the 80's and finally, for the first time in weeks, no rain!  Well, except for that wicked thunder and lightning storm that blew though here about an hour ago.I startled so badly, I almost pee'd!  It sounded like that thunder clap was just over my right ear, and boy did the night sky turn to day for a moment.  I straightened up in my seat and looked around, as one never knows exactly who is lerking in the darkness.  One look over my shoulder and I now realized what all the noise was. The tree directly to my right had sustained a direct hit from a lightning strike.  My partner and I were in "striking distance" so to speak.

We both got out a while after the rain stopped and surveyed the damage.  A length of tree-bark was sheared from the tree.  We found the culprit of the delayed cracking noise after the lightning struck, it was the sound of the tree shedding its skin.  Good thing for us we were A: grounded and B: not under a falling limb. 

Good God, the dangers we face to feed our families


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Frustrated Photographer

by Steven P. Velasquez
June 20, 2012

Grumble, grumble, f'in', frigga, frassa, stupid privacy Nazi's!!!!!  Why can't we photograph what we see in the hospital?  Sue this you idiots!  This privacy crap and hysteria about photographing in certain places deserves a counter suit!  I'm suing these nuts for robbing us (the people - as in "We the People") of our God-given (that's right I said it!) right to humor!  Humor is good medicine and I believe certain people are put on this Earth to provide a healthy dose of humor -- for the rest!

Some will provide humor as their choice of career (Billy Crystal).  Some will provide social commentary (Jackie Mason).  Some will act (Robin Williams).  Some will pretend they have what it takes to be president (see current occupant)(snort).  And some... some will just be themselves and bring laughter to us all by their very, and often pathetic, existence.  Some people, due to their lack of sophistication, level of intoxication, what-ever -- are just damn funny fodder!

Earlier today in an undisclosed facility, that may or may not provide care and comfort for humanity, I, at the end of a 13 hour shift (don't forget the late jobs), had a complete and sudden loss of decorum (not my norm).  I just couldn't control myself and what I had seen had struck me as such a funny sight that I actually covered my mouth with one hand, raised and pointed with the other and right there in the middle of... let's just call it an E.R., laughed out loud.  I quickly caught myself, realized that the entire off-going night and on-coming day shifts were there staring at me.

Gangsta pant styles
You see homies in 'the hood' are bad.  They are bad mo fo's.  They talk bad.  They walk bad.  They snarl and stare and try to get in your head.  When the odds are right and you're unprepared or vulnerable, they can often wreak some badness upon you and take yo' shit!  They're so bad they can't pull up their pants (see illustration).  They walk with a limp, even if they've never been shot -- yet.  They call that diddy-boppin', or at least used to when I walked among them (with my pants pulled up though).

So this bad mo fo is diddy-boppin' through the ER catching looks from everyone.  He's got his cool on.  His hat is turned to the side (like when Daffy Duck used to get his beak blown off his face).  He's in full, peacock-like strut, daring anyone in a lab-coat or scrubs to "dis" (disrespect) him (because he's earned so much of their unwavering respect).  And what to my blood-shot, ready to go home eyes do I see?  About 30 inches of 'White Cloud' hanging down his posterior.  Like a cartoon cat walking upright, this brother forgot to disengage the shore-line at the last rest-room visit.

Let me tell you this cat was bad.  I wish I could have shown you what I saw, but a brother's gotta pay the bills.  You know what I'm sayin' yo?

Friday, June 1, 2012

I Love This Job

by Steven P. Velasquez
May 29, 2012

I love this job. Where else does a person punch in and get briefed by their boss, manager, supervisor or in my case, chief -- that there's danger in the air and that we may be sent right into it? A shooting the other night turned into a homicide and our intel says to be ready for expected retaliation, particularly between this street and that ave., so watch your six.

Dangerous sounding right? I agree. But having lived the corporate life with all of its' consistencies, I choose the uncertainty, the disorder, the calamities inherent.

My job is never boring. I call my co-workers and esteemed colleagues brothers -- and sisters; and now that I'm getting older, many of them are like my sons and daughters too.

My job provides perspective.  I don't just watch the seasons change, I live them, I experience them. I don't just read about the weather, nor watch it on T.V., I'm enveloped in it. 

My job puts me in the midst of things happening.  I don't just read about last night's tragedy. I -- was last night's tragedy's last hope.

My job is challenging.  A 6X6 fluorescent lit, climate controlled cubicle in a perfectly predictable office space just doesn't cut it for me. The back of a 10 foot long, poorly lit and barely air conditioned ambulance is my office -- uncertainty is my home. 

My job is exhausting.  It's said that one should work to live, not live to work. Maybe I'm off balance. Perhaps a little askew, but if the circumstances in my life dictate that I have to work as much as I do, I choose the excitement. I choose the uncertainty. I choose this group of people beside me.  I choose the life of a Mobile Intensive Care Paramedic and I pray God keeps me healthy and able to continue in this endeavor -- with these brothers -- and these sisters for as long as I'm needed here.

My job is noble and honorable and not - for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Confession Made of Steel

Photography by Velasquez

by Steven P. Velasquez

"I once carried the weight of a 110-story office tower made of concrete and steel. 

That was the easy part. 

Today, I carry the memories and tears of millions, the weight of a nation, a people."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Can Write Like the Newspapers Do!

by Steven P. Velasquez
April 8, 2012

People who do what I do for a living (Emergency Medical Services) know the frustration of going out, diving headlong into someone's personal nightmare, exposing themselves to illness, danger and sometimes, even mortal danger while doing so, just to read the morning daily and have some story written about something that you remember being directly involved in, less than 24 hours ago, that looks, sounds and is nothing like what you just experienced!  In the northeastern U.S., we call this 'News' 
[nooz, nyooz] Noun  usually used with a singular verb )1.a report of a recent event; intelligence; information.

One has to have special education to collect, analyze and report the 'news' in either verbal, written or video form.  We call these people 'journalists.'  

I've always admired journalists dating back to my high-school days with those talented (and geeky) enough to participate in the writing of the school newspaper.  They'd always look very busy and industrious with their notepads held tight and sharpened #2 pencils over their ears.  Some eccentrics would even wear strange looking hats that made them look like throwbacks to the 1940's, like some intrepid reporter type guy with a nickname like "Scoop."

Over the past several years, I've taken to writing and have received strong praise, criticism and encouragement from many people.  Some think I should author a book.  Who knows what the future holds?  Today, my fascination is with writing for a newspaper, with one caveat though, I have to be allowed to write like they do.  Completely and wholly unaccountable for any of the facts.

Any of my brethren in the field can read below and know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. 

Here is today's report from the field.  

Fire Department Averts Easter Tragedy Rescues Motorist - Jersey City, NJ

AP and SNN (Steve News Network)
April 8, 2012

Earlier today after battling a six-alarm fire that consumed ten homes in Jersey City and required the additional help of the fire departments of Newark, Bayonne and North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue to bring under control, FDJC's Engine 14 and Ladder 7 responded to Oakland and the State Highway West to a reported motor vehicle collision involving a utility pole.  

Ladder 7 - FDJC

The critically injured motorist was reported to have lost control of their vehicle before jumping the curb and striking the pole which landed upon their vehicle, trapping the motorist inside. 

The fire departments' resources, bleary eyed and battered from the nights events, fought through their fatigue, suited up -- and answered the call.  Someone was hurt and in need, and this is what this elite, and very special group of men and women do every day of every year; even on a holy and special day like Easter.

Engine 14 - FDJC
Upon their arrival, the battalion chief, like a shepherd tending to his flock, quickly established command, positioned his resources and instructed law enforcement to shut down traffic in either direction to protect his people's safety.

Hastily, the firefighters assembled a special tool called the jaws of life (a hydraulic spreading tool used to gain access to people trapped in motor vehicles or beneath other obstacles) and began carefully and skillfully cutting the motor vehicle away from the injured motorist.
First responders and EMS'ers from the Jersey City Medical Center arrived and drove the injured motorist to the hospital where he is listed in stable condition.

Ambulance Drivers prepare to "rush" the injured to the hospital

No firefighters or police officers were injured at the scene.



Monday, March 26, 2012

Of Dancing Bags and Balls Discarded

by Steven P. Velasquez
March 26, 2012

"Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it.  And my heart is just going to -- cave in."  -- American Beauty

To describe my past day or two, one would have to combine two great American movies into one film, starring me - of course.

Two days ago, an online discussion with someone I hold in very high esteem led to a difference of opinions and a bit of a social media clash.  This happens often when one has the courage to put their ideas, thoughts and convictions into text and publish it for all to read.  The person I offended was someone I valued highly and not someone I wanted to lose as a friend over said differences.

The day-long debate finally ended in a phone call to discuss our differences/ideas verbally where we had the added benefit of tone and inflection; two things often absent in text that can lead to conflicts and larger problems.  We talked, explained, heard each other out and mended fences.  While doing so, she quite unexpectedly paid me one of the largest compliments I've ever been paid by a woman, man or beast!  She said, "Steve, do you know who you remind me of?  Have you ever seen the movie "American Beauty?"  "Yes" I replied "of course I did.  It's one of my favorites."  She continued, "You're the guy in the movie who's paralyzed by the beauty of the world around you; the one who filmed the dancing garbage bag.  You see things that others don't.  I see it in your words, your writing and your photography."

The conversation ended in both of us seeing what each other meant on the opposing sides of the original argument.  My heart was overwhelmed however with the kind compliment she had bestowed upon me.  For someone that I don't spend a lot of time with, or know incredibly well, I felt that was a rather high compliment and my day, my week has been changed as a result.

Today, I left the New Brunswick area of NJ and headed north to my home.  I traveled the Garden State Parkway, more affectionately known as the "Garden State Parking Lot" especially during rush hour.  I was tired and eager to get horizontal before having to report back to work tonight.  As traffic slowly coiled through the Newark area, I came to a stop.  I glanced at the tall buildings, saw the tree tops swaying with the increasing winds and the weathered head stones in the aged cemetery on my right.

There on the side of the road was a discarded ball, a volleyball I determined after a closer glance.  It was dirty, half deflated and rolled slowly to and fro, dancing in the wind, beside the busy roadway.

With the loudest voice I could muster, and not realizing my passenger window was down, I yelled, "W I L S O N !!!!!!"  I startled the ever loving shit out of the commuter beside me, then shrunk down in my seat laughing hysterically to myself.

Sometimes it's not easy being me, seeing the world as I do, often separate and apart from those around me.  And sometimes, it's just a lot of fun.  You laugh alone a lot and with others on occasion.  You feel like a "Cast Away" and a beautiful American all balled into one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

People That Annoy Me...

by Steven P. Velasquez
Feb. 9, 2012

There's an old French adage "to never bullshit a bullshitter".

Every now and again, my life's path intersects with someone who wants me to believe something -- like somewhere they once worked.  My natural instinct is to believe that person; right up to the point where facts collide with a person's emotional needs.

When you're going to try to pass a story (usually for self-aggrandizement) that you worked in the World Trade Center, consider two possibilities:
  1. That you may be in the presence of those of us who actually did...  
  2. That your audience might actually know how to use a search engine.

Be advised that your emotional need to create drama and drive the focus toward yourself...

  1. Is sad, pathetic and annoying
  2. Is disrespectful to everyone we ALL lost
  3. Make sure that when you give me a floor # and company name.. 
    • That you can remember a feature or two about the place     
    • That "your employer" actually existed there at the time!

Or how about this?  Why don't you just introduce yourself to me... tell the truth... and let me make an assessment as to whether I'd like to spend more time with you without insulting my intelligence or worse, displaying utter contempt for the people who legitimately suffered or sacrificed on and since that day?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Winter Soliloquy

by Steven P. Velasquez
Feb. 8, 2012

Peering through a window small, 

Fixated 'pon the white flake's fall, 

Kissing softly, a warm, dear friend, 
Dunkin' Donuts' winter blend 

I love you -- coffee.