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The Yankee Express

Auburn Emergency Services

By Janet Stoica

Above, Tess DiDonato, EMS Coordinator, Auburn Fire-Rescue Left, Auburn's EMS Motorcycle


They’re certainly not like the shows depicted in movies and on TV. The calm and detail-oriented staffs of real-life ambulance services are cool, calm, and collected. “This is not how many emergency personnel are shown on media shows,” said Auburn Fire-Rescue Department’s Chief Stephen Coleman, “watching real paramedics is not a rapid-action movie, we are not go, go, go. Our job is to calm our patient and family and not to rush out of the situation they are in. Calm and precise treatment is our goal. In today’s world, the best treatment is to focus on our patient as the first 15 minutes of our call to them is critical for patient survival especially for cardiac events and strokes. Movies and TV shows set unrealistic expectations.”
Outside of Worcester, Auburn is the largest and busiest fire and rescue department in the southern Worcester County fire district made up of 28 cities and towns. The district stretches from the western county towns of Holland and Wales to the southern towns of Webster and Douglas to Upton, Mendon, and Blackstone. It’s a significant area according to Chief Coleman. Auburn’s population is approximately 16,000 residents. Auburn has a full-time staff of 52 including the Chief, Deputy Chief, Captain/Fire Inspector, and administrative positions as well as a full-time mechanic. On the emergency side there is a staff of 44. For their two fire stations, there are four groups of 11 personnel on the 8 a.m.- 8 p.m. shifts. Seven are headquartered at the main fire station and four at the West Street station.
The town has four ambulances, but staff only two. “It’s our goal to staff a third ambulance,” said Chief Coleman, “we currently employ 32 paramedics and 8 basic EMTs. Basic EMTs perform largely first aid and our paramedics are able to deliver 35 different medications as well as administer advanced mon toring in addition to cardiac monitoring. We send an ambulance and fire truck to every call. Two ambulance personnel are good but having a third responder if the situation is serious is essential. We are then able to treat the patient and extricate them. The moving component works closely to the treatment component. Two paramedics must be able to handle the patient’s vital signs. It’s essentially bringing the Emergency Room to the patient. Medicines and pre-hospital care has transitioned so much. The first 10-15 minutes spent with a patient are very critical, it’s the patient’s best chance for survival. Everyone on-scene has a role. With the extra personnel on our fire trucks, we can cut our on-scene time by 50% and then get the patient to the hospital.” 
Additionally, the Auburn Fire Rescue Department operates the only motorcycle in the state licensed as a Class V Ambulance. It’s for special events and rides with the Central Mass Law Enforcement Counsel’s Motor Unit. Although popular in other parts of the country, this is a unique way of providing advanced life support pre-hospital care at large gatherings that is not as popular in New England.
The town’s Emergency Services Coordinator, Tess DiDonato, had just completed a 24-hour shift when I caught up with her. She has 31 years of experience and is a paramedic. “I always wanted to be part of this,” said Ms. DiDonato, “I’ve always had a drive to help and I’m able to assist medically. We do not rush into a patient’s home or situation and then rush them out. Your calmness level is extremely important not only to the patient but also to their family. If you can provide comfort and confidence to patients, the patient realizes that good and experienced people are helping them and new paramedics will also take notice of the level of composure you are demonstrating.”
“You never know what a situation will be. Auburn has several major highways running through town and we’ve had many auto accidents. We also have some town residents who are fall risks and that’s fine because that’s why we’re here. I’ve delivered babies, helped our elderly, and assisted at major accidents. A recent situation involved a phone call asking for help because a flying squirrel was causing a ruckus in a resident’s chimney.” Apparently, the rodent had fallen into the chimney but just couldn’t make its way out. The crew assisted with trapping the flying animal and releasing it to the outdoors. 
“Another situation involved a tractor-trailer rollover. The driver was trapped upside-down in the tractor. The City of Worcester sent their heavy-rescue truck to stabilize the vehicle while we worked for 2-1/2 hours to extricate the driver. He did survive but with a leg injury. It took a huge amount of teamwork. On another occasion, I was driving home and saw cars ahead of me stopped with a bicyclist lying in the middle of the road. I approached the scene and saw a teenager on the ground. I could tell she wasn’t getting enough air and if she wasn’t moved to another position, her oxygen levels would suffer possibly causing brain damage. I identified myself to the incoming paramedics and we were able to safely move her. She had been hit hard by a pickup truck and knocked out of her sneakers. I decided then and there that no matter what happened, I was going to notify her parents that I had been there to assist her. Even though I provided a small amount of assistance, it was rewarding to know that I helped her. She had a lot of broken bones and bruising. As it turned out, the young lady is in good condition now and just recently graduated from high school,” said Ms. DiDonato. 
“We are always cognizant of getting you out of your home and to the hospital as soon as possible,” stated Ms. DiDonato, “that first 15 minutes of our entry to your home is so critical. We will get you to the hospital as quickly as possible.”
There is no doubt that our paramedics and EMTs are the heroes of our world, in our time of need, in our emergencies. Calling “911” is always the fastest way to get help. Review and teach your children how to call “911” – it could be the best lesson they’re ever taught.