When the COVID-19 pandemic broke, the world watched as the number of cases reached epic proportions. New York City was the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Three CCC paramedicine students – Ava Arlt, Desiree Lutes and Cheyenne Massey – traveled to New York City as part of a Federal Emergency Management Agency deployment through their employer. The trio assisted the New York Fire Department in responding to the high numbers of 911 calls.
All three said that when the opportunity to go to New York City was made available, they had about five minutes to decide if they were going. That’s because a caravan of 15 ambulances was leaving in less than 24 hours.
“I knew right away that I wanted to go, but I needed to call my mom first,” Arlt said with a laugh.
What was supposed to be a 24-hour drive straight through to New York turned out to be a 36-hour venture with all the starts and stops. As the old saying goes, there was no rest for the weary as the caravan pulled into the Bronx Zoo staging area at 5 a.m. to fill out paperwork. The group checked into the New York Hilton, but less than four hours later, they had to report to the Fort Totten Park staging area for a very quick orientation.
“We received a 10-week orientation in like 20 minutes,” said Massey. “I went to work right away and was on duty until 2 a.m.”
Paramedicine students pose for photo while in the Bronx.
Massey and her partner were initially sent to North Brooklyn for the first week covering 911 calls. They were then assigned to a task force that moved around the city relieving other task forces to give them the day off.
“My partner only stayed for two weeks and I stayed for a month, so she had already gone home by the time we got a day off,” said Massey.
In addition to 911 call response, Massey assisted with transporting COVID patients, which at times was challenging because even though the destinations were just a few blocks away, the travel time was much longer than expected.
“Transporting COVID patients made us nervous, but it went OK,” said Massey. “It was horrible being in the gown, the mask, the gloves and everything because it was so hot.”
Arlt and Lutes were paired up and dispatched to South Bronx. The calls they responded to went beyond COVID situations.
“We responded to overdoses, stabbings, shootings and psychiatric episodes,” recalled Arlt. “It was kind of scary the first two days, but then we just got used to it.”
Arlt, Lutes and Massey all said that even though the work was demanding and the hours long, the experience they gained was invaluable, and they glean from their New York experience here at home.
“It was just a great learning opportunity to see all of the different medical emergencies that people had and incorporate in with what we were studying,” said Lutes, who recently earned her paramedic certificate and will complete her associate degree next spring.
“It gave me more confidence when I run 911 calls here,” said Massey, who graduated in May from CCC. “You make all of your own decisions and it taught you how to be a leader.”
“It gave me a lot of confidence coming back, especially now with internships when we have to do team leads with the fire department,” said Arlt, who also earned her paramedic certificate and plans to complete the associate degree requirements.
In a city that often is portrayed as tough and unfeeling, Lutes got to see the gracious side of New York residents on her final night in the city.
“The residents came out and cheered for the first responders,” Lutes recalled. “People came out on their patios, their decks and rooftops, and were banging on pans, clapping and cheering for us. That was one of the most memorable moments.”