This is First Responders Appreciation Week, a time to recognize all the men and women who make Norwalk and Huron County the safe, well-cared-for place that it is. The majority of calls that come in through dispatch in some way, shape or form require a type of medical expertise, whether that’s hands-on or precautionary.
Joseph Micheletti has worked in the medical division of the first responders for nearly 25 years — first as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and then as a paramedic. He currently serves as the North Central EMS field operations manager. However, he still fills in and works the field both as a paramedic and dispatcher.
“It is under-appreciated, but a lot of people in the industry don’t think about the appreciation,” Micheletti said. “You don’t get into this job for the appreciation. It is thankless at times, but they get into this job knowing that. You don’t expect a thank you, but it means a lot when people do thank us.”
Micheletti said it doesn’t happen often, but he said it’s encouraging when a person goes up to a medical first responder, “like randomly in the parking lot to say ‘thank you.’”
“It’s not a lot, but sometimes the simplest things mean the most,” he said.
Day in the life
A typical day in the life of an EMT or paramedic can be long. Though there are some eight- and 12-hour shifts, most work 24 hours straight, then take off 48 hours.
“We work 24-hour shifts, so in a typical day you come into work, you come in and check your equipment and take care of your station duties, (including) washing your truck,” he said. “Then you just sit and wait. It’s a waiting game. When someone calls 9-1-1, it goes to a dispatcher. They’ll take the information and (dispatch) the call.”
A dispatcher is responsible for providing pre-arrival information to the EMS crew and then alerts an ambulance to respond.
“That sets off a pretty loud tone and they give brief information and the address, the nature of the call,” Micheletti said.
The crew doesn’t always get a lot of information about the call before they arrive, he said, but it’s the dispatcher’s job to get as many details as possible — even if those are unspoken.
In addition to overdoses, medical emergencies, accidents and fire responses, on any given day North Central also could provide help and care for non-emergency lift assistance. EMTs and paramedics also could do a fire-assist, where the crew stands by in case a firefighter is in need of care, medical shuttle trips, IV starts at various facilities across the county and special details for football games and community events. Crews even could provide blood pressure checks as a service at various businesses.
“Every call is different,” North Central EMS director Ashley Ballah said. “I don't think there is one way that things play out, or for what they expect when they show up on scene. You’re going into people’s private residences. They have an idea, but they never really know what they’re going to encounter. Safety is a concern; they have to be very alert at all times.”
Even though Norwalk isn’t a large city, first responders have to be prepared for the same issues that face their big city counterparts. Ballah said they have to work together to achieve that as well.
“Dispatch has to be aware of clues from the scene, from people's tone of voice, etc,” she said.
“When (EMTs or paramedics) show up to someone’s home, they don’t know what they’re walking into, if they have guns. That’s not something that we’ve encountered here yet — someone pulling a gun on one of our people — but it's just something they have to be aware of. The nice thing about our community is the police and fire usually also respond to a lot of the same calls, so that helps us to feel protected and they’re able to assist in other areas.”
Ballah said the inter-department collaboration plays a large part in providing the community with excellent care and protection.
“And it’s only getting stronger,” she added.
Micheletti said one of the biggest challenges those in the field can face on the business-side of things is the pay.
“It’s very much an underpaid industry across the nation,” he added.
Thankless but rewarding
Despite the challenges, most employees in the field believe the job is worth it.
“We do a lot more than people realize. A crew could have to do anything,” Ballah said, adding that could range from a “variety” of medical emergencies, non-emergent transportation to Cleveland or Toledo, maintenance and mechanics on the vehicles. “Everybody chips in to do what we have to.”
She said those in this “family-oriented business” are the ones who “show up when you need them most.”
“They’re also the people that drive by and stop,” Ballah said. “There are several instances a truck’s happened to be there when something happens. Our people aren’t the type to just drive by. We also go to football games and the fair, to be available.”
“These (first responders) get people here to the hospital when they need it most,” said Fisher-Titus marketing director Deb Reed. “Without that link, what would we do?”
Micheletti said there are “a lot of elderly people (who) don’t have the transportation” to get to the hospital.
“Imagine if there wasn’t the EMS to help them get to the hospital, if it wasn’t for the transportation services,” he said. “Even for something simple, if they don’t get to the hospital, it could turn into pneumonia and then they could end up passing away at home. Some things that people don’t think are emergent and immediate can turn into something much more serious.”
The job is a tough one, Micheletti said, “but the benefits — there are more rewarding benefits than challenges.”
One of his most memorable calls happened 10 years ago. It was an incident that didn’t deal with the end of life, but the beginning.
“I delivered a baby in an intersection once,” Micheletti said. The woman’s husband was rushing her to the hospital to deliver the baby when she realized “she wasn’t going to make it.”
“She said, ‘Stop! It’s coming now.’ So when we got there, we put her in the ambulance and I kind of felt bad for the husband because he said, ‘OK, you’re going to the hospital, right?’ and shut the door before we could answer and he drove off. But this girl was going to give birth, so we didn’t have time to drive there. We had to deliver the baby right there in the middle of the intersection in the back of the ambulance.”
Micheletti said the experience wasn’t only a beautiful moment for the new mother, but one that left an impression on himself as well.
“That was kind of a neat experience,” he said. “We see a lot of sickness and illness and death. Instead, this time, I got to help and witness the start of life, to be there for the birth. It wrapped up well too because I got to sign the birth certificate, so that was kind of cool.
“It’s rewarding to know that you can make a difference in somebody’s lives. There are run-of-the-mill medical calls, but every now and again you get to use your skills and can make a difference.”
BY THE NUMBERS
About 100 — Number of North Central EMS employees, including emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics and dispatchers
28 — Number of North Central vehicles
30 — Average number of transports made per day
50 — Average of emergency and non-emergency calls responded to per day
1,563 — Number of calls North Central EMS responded to in January
9 minutes — National average response time
5 minutes and 33 seconds — Average EMS response time in Norwalk
24 hours — Length of most EMT/paramedic shifts