Matthew Hebert’s shifts as a volunteer EMT in New York City are supposed to be 12 hours, but he hasn’t worked a shift that “short” since he arrived April 1.
“The shortest shift has been 16 hours and the longest was 26 hours,” said Hebert, 28, during a brief break before taking more 911 calls.
Hebert, a Germanna Community College nursing student who works for local medical transport company LifeCare, answered the call from FEMA for volunteers to assist New York City’s first responders with the increased volume of calls during the coronavirus pandemic.
Two hundred and fifty ambulances and 500 EMTs and paramedics from around the country have traveled to New York, which has been a hot spot for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“People are here from California, Texas, Colorado and honestly every state in the U.S.,” Hebert said. “I personally just haven’t seen [anyone from] Hawaii or Alaska.”
LifeCare sent five advanced support and three basic support ambulances to New York earlier this month, said company owner—and Germanna graduate—Kevin Dillard. He said he has five more ambulances set aside to send to New York if the need arises.
“And we’re keeping a close watch on what’s going on around the country, in Detroit and New Orleans,” Dillard said.
LifeCare sent a total of 16 people to New York “for an undetermined amount of time,” Dillard said.
In addition to Hebert, Spotsylvania County resident Ayrton Castillo and Stafford County resident Thomas McGowan are part of the LifeCare team.
“I’m very proud of our people [who volunteered],” Dillard said. “It’s important when the need arises that you can help anywhere in the nation. It takes a lot of dedication and personal and family sacrifice.”
Hebert, who has worked for LifeCare since 2019 and has been a volunteer EMT with Lake of the Woods Fire and Rescue since 2011, is part of a task force based at a staging area near the Bronx Zoo, responding to calls from all over the city.
Some of their work involves transporting patients to hospitals farther out of the city to free up beds for those sickened by COVID-19.
“A couple of days ago, we took a mass evacuation bus from Queens and drove it out past Albany, to get out of the city to free up beds,” Hebert said.
After every call, the ambulance team scrubs the vehicle down with bleach.
“You’re always washing your hands and masks pretty much 24/7,” Hebert said. “The [personal protective equipment] has been so far, so good. We have what we need, but they’re definitely rationing—it’s not like the open supply we’ve been used to for years.”
Hebert, whose father is an advertising consultant at The Free Lance–Star, responded to a question about how long he would be in New York with a heavy chuckle.
“I’ve heard two weeks, I’ve heard a month, I’ve heard three months,” he said. “Until whenever this is gone.”
He said he volunteered for the mission because the outbreak is “like a war.”
“In a war, you don’t stay behind. You always go,” he said.
Hebert said there have been “a lot of sleepless hours,” but the warm welcome and thanks the team receives from New York residents help him carry on.
“When we [first drove into the city], there was a good amount of people still on the streets and they gave us a pretty warm welcome, waving and hollering,” he said. “It seems like almost everyone thanks you. That’s been positive. We really haven’t had much of a negative experience.”
Dillard said the local community in Virginia has also been supportive of LifeCare’s first responders.
He said people dropped off handmade masks, hand sanitizer and lunch bags for the team to take on their drive to New York and local restaurants are also donating meals to feed the team still in Virginia.
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