This story is from the Times Herald Record In Upstate New York:
The resignation of an Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad volunteer who admits breaking rules to transport a sick child to the hospital has caused an outcry in the community.
At about 11 a.m. on Dec. 11, EMT and squad leader Stephen Sawyer, 20, was at the squad’s Webster Street headquarters when a call came in about a 4-year-old having seizures.
An Ellenville paramedic soon arrived at the boy’s home in an SUV, Sawyer says, and called for an ambulance. Sawyer, who was alone at headquarters, put in a call to the Kerhonkson Accord First Aid Squad, but they were busy on another call.
Sawyer thought about Mobile Life Support Services, where he also works and drives ambulances, but its squads were so far away they’d take about 45 minutes to arrive, Sawyer says.
Took matters into own hands
In the next 15 minutes, three more calls for ambulances came up empty and, Sawyer says, he couldn’t wait any longer. Despite squad rules requiring someone to be 21 to drive the ambulance, Sawyer got in the ambulance, drove some 4-5 miles, picked up the child, his mother, and the paramedic and got them to Ellenville Regional Hospital without an issue.
The child was later taken to Albany Medical Center.
Later, Sawyer, who’s also a volunteer firefighter and a part-time police officer in two Ulster County departments, finished his shift in Ellenville and drove his own car to Rockland County to attend a hazmat training class. He was a half hour late because of the call, but he says he did what he felt he had to do.
“I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night or go to school knowing there’s a 4-year-old suffering,” Sawyer said.
Still, that night he was awakened by a call from the squad captain asking about the incident. On Monday, Sawyer says, he was called in front of the Ellenville squad’s seven-member board of directors.
Sawyer admitted he went against the rules, but felt it was still the best option. After all, he had experience driving ambulances for Mobile Life and firetrucks for a local fire department.
Faced with shocking decision
In a 4-3 decision, the board said it would suspend him for 60 days, revoke his title on the communications committee and his title as advisor from the Youth Squad that he restarted as a 15-year-old squad member.
Shocked by the decision, Sawyer says he grabbed a slip of paper and signed his resignation on the spot.
Soon after, Ulster County Fire/Rescue Incidents posted the story on its popular Facebook page and the story went viral, with almost 400 comments and more than 1,300 “likes.” Most all of the comments were in support of Sawyer and were critical of the board.
John Gavaris, a captain and board member for Ellenville First Aid and Rescue Squad as well as a Wawarsing town councilman, says he can’t go into specifics about Sawyer’s incident because it’s a personnel matter, but said the squad’s rules are consistent with other rescue squads in the region.
They aren’t dictated by insurance, he said.
The reasons for the over-21 rule comes down to experience, Gavaris says, and going through the proper training to drive an ambulance.
Experience driving firetrucks or other ambulances doesn’t necessarily matter, Gavaris says.
“It seems very black and white and it’s not very black and white,” Gavaris said.
The suspension Sawyer was offered came from a “culmination of different incidents” in which he violated policies and bylaws as well as other aspects of the Dec. 11 call, Gavaris says. He says he can’t elaborate on those incidents.
Squad policies in place
Sawyer says no other incidents were mentioned to him on Monday and could think of only one minor incident a year ago that got him into trouble.
Gavaris says in the end, the squad feels they’re operating in the safest way possible for the community and Sawyer’s incident paints the squad in a bad light.
“This is the type of story that the public doesn’t need to be told,” Gavaris said. “There’s no value in this story other than shock value and gossip.”
Sawyer says he doesn’t mean to bring negative attention to the Ellenville squad, but feels its rules don’t make much sense.
“As far as policy wise, the guys and girls on the board need to rethink their policies for the good of the community,” Sawyer says. “People shouldn’t have to suffer over policy.”