NORTHERN RHODE ISLAND – In our worst moments, they are the first to arrive, the life savers, and right now, they go to work daily knowing they may have to face off against a virus that has brought the world to a halt.

May 17 through 23 is Emergency Medical Services Week, a time to celebrate and thank practitioners for the important work they do in the community.

And local fire chiefs point out that right now, that work is more important – and more potentially riskier – than ever.

“They are the first line of defense in regular times and these are very challenging times,” noted Harrisville Fire District Chief Michael Gingell.

President Gerald Ford first authorized EMS Week with a proclamation in 1974, and in the years since, the week has become not only a time to honor local professionals with events like cookouts and celebrations, but also a time for focused training.

North Smithfield Fire & Rescue Chief David Chartier said that state officials have presented different topics for focus each day during conference calls this week.

Normally, the week would culminate in an awards ceremony at the statehouse.

“Obviously that’s not going to happen this year,” Chartier said.

“It’s going to be a little low-level compared to other years,” Gingell noted.

In 2018, Pascoag Rescue Capt. Thomas Smith was named Emergency Medical Service Coordinator of the year at such a ceremony and last year, Harrisville Capt. Norman “Chip” Mainville was among those recognized.

Gingell typically hosts an outdoor dinner to celebrate the Harrisville crew, another event that’s been cancelled in 2020.

Nationally, the EMS Week theme, chosen well in advance of the local threat from the pandemic, is Ready for Today, Preparing for Tomorrow, and the recent threat has given the phrase new meaning. On Saturday, May 16, EMS professionals who have lost their lives in the line of duty related to the Covid-19 pandemic were recognized.

Chartier said that North Smithfield has seen an uptick in services recently, including patients with cases of Covid-19.

“We’ve transported several over the past two weeks,” Chartier said.

“The guys are doing a great job as always,” Chartier added. “They’re making sure that every incident they go on, they have the right PPE. We try to make sure we get the patients on a surgical mask as well.”

He noted that none of his staff members have tested positive for the virus.

“We had a couple of scares but they all turned out negative,” Chartier said.

Gingell noted that “whether it’s somebody trapped in a vehicle, or somebody just ill, or a trauma patient,” the community is always well served.

“I personally can’t say enough about these men and women,” Gingell said. “All of the men and women on the new front line deserve to be recognized in their community.”

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