There are real life heroes in Queens ... but dont
expect to see them donning long capes or riding off into the sunset because these heroes
dont have enough free time.
Nothing at all like the burnt-out main character in the recent movie
"Bringing Out The Dead," the members of the boroughs volunteer ambulance
corps, are constantly proving their heroism as they face stranger and more nerve-racking
volunteer hours than anyone could ever catch on film.
Monday Night In Bayside
At 7:30 p.m. all is calm at the Bayside Volunteer Ambulance Corps garage which feels
more like a clubhouse as staff members sit around talking about the recent Ambulance Corps
party over the previous weekend.
Then came the call over the radio.
"Unconscious," the small police walkie-talkie blurted out, giving an address on
Northern Blvd. near 211 St.
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Sal Puglisi shouts "lets go," into a
back room where 27 year-old EMT Erik Knapp, 24-year old EMT Jill Jensen and 22-year-old
Probationary EMT Antoinette Henriquez are watching home movies.
The crew bolts out the front door and the race is on.
Racing To The Rescue
Mentally prepping themselves for the unknown, the crew strapped themselves in and began
preparing their equipment as the ambulance bounced, twisted and turned through the
bustling thoroughfare of Bell Blvd.
The Bayside group was the first on the scene which is usually the case with most
calls, Puglisi explained later to encounter a man lying still on the sidewalk on the
Northern Blvd. street corner.
Puglisi approached the victim and asked "Hey Buddy, Whats Up?"
The semi-responsive man replies in mumbled as Police and the Fire Dept. Emergency Medical
The Fire Dept. Paramedics told Puglisi and his crew that the mans name is Michael
and that he is frequently picked up by ambulance crews.
"Looks like we have a regular customer," a crew member replied.
Knapp and Jensen secure Michael and put him on a stretcher and into the back of the
"bus" "bus" is EMT lingo for "ambulance".
Behind the wheel of the bus, Puglisi is cool and collected as he zips down Northern Blvd
weaving through busy intersections and dodging unrelenting drivers who seem to ignore the
flashing light and siren warning.
The Ambulance winds up at Flushing Hospital where Knapp and Henriquez wheel the pa-tient
into the emergency room.
There Knapp and Henriquez brief the E.R. doctors on Michaels status while Puglisi
returns to the bus to get it ready for the rest of the nights calls.
As Puglisi lit up a Marlboro Light to unwind from the adrenaline filled ride to the
hospital he explained what motivates him to give up his free time to help other people.
He said he does it for the love of it.
When Puglisi isnt driving an ambulance on a Volunteer basis, he drives one to earn a
As an ambulance driver for New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, Puglisi
has pretty much seen it all.
"Yeah it desensitizes you a bit," he said in describing his job.
But that comes with the territory, he explained.
Heroes In The Night
On the ride back to base, Henriquez and Knapp talked shop as the Ambulance wound its
way through the streets of Flushing and Bayside.
"When everyone thinks of treatment, they think of good hospitals and good doctors,
what about EMTs, Knapp asked.
"We get on the scene and we will down on our knees for forty minutes administering
C.P.R and what we do will often wind up saving the patients life. Nobody remembers the
EMTs, we get them there and then we are gone and forgotten." Knapp said about the
work he and his colleagues do.
"EMTs are the real heroes," he added.
Michael Ansbach, Kevin Staib, and Christopher Kagenaar, spent the early part of Friday
evening alternately talking with one another in the manner of people whose labors and
hours have long since fused them into a family.
The three are members of the Ridgewood Volunteer Ambulance Corp.
The nights early hours found the threesome not rushing to an emergency scene with
lights blazing, but rather waiting for a call waiting, and waiting.
It was a slow night and Ansbach, Staib, and Kagenaar, as well as two of the corps
members in training, 15-year-old Sara Attalla, and 21-year-old Santos Solten spent the
time double checking their vehicles mechanics, equipment, and supplies, as well as
explaining to a Tribune reporter the specifics of their job, and why they choose to
spent on average between 10 and 15 hours a week of their free time away from their
families, working while under high stress for no pay.
"We do it to give back to the community," explained Staib.
"Enough of us believe in it in neighbors helping neighbors."
"Were pretty careful but you never know whats going happen,"
While helping to calm an emotionally disturbed man, the crew noted "the man came
around and clocked the guy from EMS." Grinned Staib "Obviously not everyone we
need to help, wants to be helped."
But not all memories can be diffused with laughter, as is the case of a call for an 18
month old boy who nearly drowned in a kiddy pool, a call that Ansbach responded to.
Though the child survived the incident, he was severely brain damaged and died a few
"The worst thing ever is seeing a child in cardiac arrest," said Ansbach.
"Calls like that afterwards, your mind doesnt stay on the call
but on the child."
Added Staib, "Ive gone to calls for a few kids that when you get back, you hear
they didnt make it . Afterwards you talk with your crew, your friends, your family
but sometimes you just stand in a corner and cry."
Saturday With The Forest Hills Volunteer Corps
On Saturday nights at the Forest Hills Volunteer Corps, there are five volunteers
working in two ambulances, and two dispatchers.
At 8:25 the FHVAC gets a call.
Someone is sick in the street on 71st Road.
The crew consists of Bryce Friedman, former president of the FHVAC and a lawyer by day who
has been with the Corps for 15 years.
Maria Mela has been volunteering for one year. She explained that a sick call can be
anything ranging from fever to allergy, and the like.
The crew arrived to find that nobody was on the scene when they arrived.
On the ride back to base, Friedman explained that the fact that a lawyer also spends his
time as a volunteer EMT isnt that strange, as a large array of day occupations are
represented in the Corps.
Cops, students, customs agents, nurses, retirees he explained, "everyone has their
own reason," said Friedman.
On the ride back, Friedman explained that most of those in need of help are elderly and
live alone. And "blood and guts" situations are rare, but not as rare as one
"You get desensitized, but at some point you have to be." Friedman said.
The conversation is cut short by another emergency call on the radio.
Respiratory distress on 99th Street.
The crew reaches the scene quickly and the door opens.
A man is found on his bedroom floor nearly passed out.
He speaks no English, and his girlfriend has to translate from Polish.
The 28-year-old man started having difficulty breathing about an hour before we got there
his girlfriend explained.
Hes dizzy, and his hands are getting numb from lack of oxygen.
Two EMTs from St. Johns arrive for extra help, placing an air mask over his airways.
He is taken into the ambulance, and his girlfriend rides in back.
Once taken into St. Johns Hospital, the patient appeared to be feeling better.
The patients girlfriend explained that his mother recently passed away, and the
stress may have led to an anxiety attack.