BURRILLVILLE – Over the past year, while much of the population has worked from home, Burrillville’s dedicated team of emergency personnel has stayed busy, and has had hundreds of encounters that led – or easily could have led – to potential exposure to COVID-19.

This week, leaders from the town’s fire districts acknowledged that dedication and commitment to the job during National EMS Week, which runs from Sunday, May 16 to Friday, May 21.

“With what we’ve been through, and what we’ve experienced over year, I just think they deserve it,” said Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford set the wheels in motion to create National EMS week, a time to thank paramedics, EMTs and the entire EMS workforce for their service and sacrifices. The week has been recognized annually since, but in 2021, leaders across the country have acknowledged that the pandemic tested EMS professionals like never before, with a campaign aptly themed, “Caring for Our Communities.”

“They’ve been brave through all of this and their dedication never wavered,” said Gingell. “I saw them show compassion every day for the sick people and their families.”

Acting Pascoag Fire District Chief Marc St. Pierre expressed similar gratitude.

“Dealing with COVID patients, and being on the front line every day, I think EMS Week has even more meaning this year,” said St. Pierre. “I think EMTs everywhere should be commended for their dedication.”

Pascoag EMS Capt. Thomas Smith said the past year was, “definitely challenging, to say the least.”

“We’ve had a lot of deaths in our community,” said Smith. “We’ve risen to the challenge – the whole town.”

Although the town’s emergency staff was able to stay healthy through most of the year, exposures in December led to several cases in both the Pascoag and Harrisville districts, creating staff shortages. Smith and his partner were among those exposed. 

“I think we did a good job of isolating it within the departments,” said Harrisville Lt. Nicholas Brooks.
From left are Oakland Mapleville Deputy Chief Joseph Marcello and firefighter Brandon Lapierre; Harrisville Firefighter/EMTs Keith Jackson, Brian Fournier; and Jenna Deschamps, and Lt. Nicholas Brooks; and Pascoag EMS Coordinator Thomas Smith and Lt. Mackenzie Beausoleil.

From constant testing, to arming responders with PPE, and eventually, staffing vaccination clinics, the virus has added new elements to an already challenging profession. For EMS workers, any given day could be a chance to save a life, and staff from the Oakland Mapleville Fire District was among those recently recognized by State Department of Health Center for EMS Ambulance Service Advisory Board for doing just that.

The team responded to a motor vehicle accident at the intersection of Routes 7 and 102, and arrived at the scene after an off-duty Woonsocket firefighter had also stopped, and was assisting local police in administering CPR.

OMFD Capt. Colin Fenner was in charge that day.

“We arrived and immediately provided our level of care, and I was quickly able to establish that this was in fact a medical event that lead to a very minor single vehicle accident,” said Fenner. “Over the course of approximately 62 minutes, we were able to revive this man, twice, with the second time proving a true resuscitation.”

“We were able to use some of our most advanced skills in specific resuscitation in this event, more than likely assisting in leading to the success,” Fenner said.

Fenner noted that the man walked out of Landmark Medical Center about a week later under his own power, even refusing a wheelchair, with full neurological function.

It was just one accomplishment by Burrillville’s Emergency Medical Services staff, comprised of a mix of career, per diem and volunteer workers, who Gingell noted are constantly training. In Rhode Island, personnel are licensed by the Rhode Island Dept. of Health Emergency Medical Services Division, which is headed by Division Chief Jason Rhodes, a longtime Burrillville resident. The division provides patient care protocols and sets standards for license recertification and continuing EMS education as well as staff support for all EMTs.

“I think the education and training that the men and women have has helped them navigate this pandemic,” said Gingell.

Brooks echoed the sentiment.

“I don’t think any of us expected to have to wear gowns on calls, but it had been something we trained for,” Brooks said.

That training continued throughout 2020, despite the need to do much work remotely.

Pascoag Lt. Mackenzie Beausoleil was among those to complete advanced EMT cardiac certification this year.

“We were very limited in what we could do in the classroom,” Beausoleil told NRI NOW. “It was definitely challenging.”

In Oakland Mapleville, the medical director group won a grant this year for additional training in pediatric care through the Rhode Island Department of Health. The funding, procured through Brown EMS physicians, was also used to outfit units on OMFD, along with Pascoag, Glocester and Western Coventry, with the latest pediatric care system, and to prepare staff to become instructors in the application. The group received two full days of training at the Lifespan Simulation Lab, with real time full simulation of multiple emergency cases.

“We were able to push our entire crews through a four hour block of pretty intense simulation,” said Fenner. “It was a great training.”

“I may be a little biased given my position, but I think with the focus we put on training and reviewing our runs, and learning to be better providers daily, our EMS is right up there with our fire protection in Burrillville – and northern Rhode Island for that matter – second to none,” Fenner said.

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