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Volunteers Study Hard to Save Lives

NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - The spring session of the New York State Emergency Medical Services training program is now under way at the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps. A total of 21 people, ranging in age from 20s to 50s, are enrolled in the grueling 140-hour course. 

“This is a big commitment," said course instructor Bob Rizzo. "It takes a lot of time both away from your family and with your family. They must be behind you and support you to get through.

“People are overwhelmed by the quantity of material we work through. Half of it is  hands-on. And they have to study the manual in between classes.”

The manual, Jones and Bartlett’s Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured, is over 1,200 pages long. Along the way there are tests and quizzes and at the conclusion there is both a practical and written exam authorized by the New York State Department of Health. Graduates are certified if they pass.

How many will pass this session? “I hope all 21!” says Rizzo. “Almost all of these people are volunteers. Some of them are already volunteering, but they’re taking the extra step.”

Rizzo comes by his interests naturally. His father, Joseph, was one of the founders of the North Salem Ambulance Corps in the early 1970s. Rizzo has been a paramedic for 30 years.

“We went over last week’s quiz," said Mark McCabe of North Salem. "It was hard. We have to memorize the medical term for each part of the human body. It’s no longer a kneecap, it’s a patella.”

Allen Pakula, a Somers volunteer fireman and professional health care administrator, says, “This is a nice adjunct to my career. It’s amazing that everyone is doing it for free. It’s a good perspective to see that there are older people here.”

Katonah’s Karen Johnson, a member of the Katonah-Bedford Hills Ambulance Corps, had spent a few years volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children (CASA). As a CASA volunteer "you don’t know that you’re helping people until 30 years down the road. But with this, you get an immediate sense of accomplishment.”

“Lay people don’t know how intensive it is to get through this program,” says Rizzo. “But you can’t put a time frame on the potential of saving someone’s life.”

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