A lifeline and a helping hand: The Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Suffield - posted Thu., Feb. 14, 2013
Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association Chief Art Groux shows off the one of the group's three trucks. Photo by Colin Rajala.
Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association Chief Art Groux shows off the one of the group's three trucks. Photo by Colin Rajala.

Unless you have been what the Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association calls a "secondary patient," you might not know how frightening it is to be the family member left behind when a loved one is carried out of the home in an ambulance. A program called the Patient and Family Advocate Team (PAT), which was developed by Dan Kehoe, a member of the SVAA since 1982, is aimed at helping those people during times of emergency. "Secondary patients" are the spouses, children and close friends who have been pushed aside of necessity by the pressing need to focus the crew's attention on the primary patient.

SVAA volunteer and Board President Don Miner said volunteers on the PAT take the family members aside, working directly with them and keeping them informed about what is happening and attending to their emotional care. The way the PAT works is that members separate the secondary patients from the immediate scene until they can be satisfactorily connected to hospital patient advocates, clergy or other family members. At this point, their job is done, but even then many PAT members will remain involved or perform a beneficial follow-up service, just to make sure everyone is taken care of.

The SVAA was founded in 1976 to serve the residents of Suffield and the surrounding area with emergency ambulance service, but since then the group has taken on an even larger role within the community, providing a wealth of support services within the town.

“All the people out there saying volunteerism is dead, I think they are wrong,” said Miner. “People say, ‘Well, you don’t get paid,’ well I think we get paid in a huge measure of satisfaction. The community is very supportive and there is no lack of appreciation.”

The organization features 82 volunteers who ride the ambulance year round, putting in more than 26,000 hours of service while answering more than 1,500 requests for ambulance services. Miner says that oftentimes the ambulance association is showing up on someone’s worst day. The opportunity to improve the situation, he said, is what brings many of the volunteers back for more.

“We’re here when the community needs us,” said SVAA Chief Art Groux. “We’re here all the time, and if anybody from the community has any questions or wants to come see what we have, the doors are always open."

The ambulance association's outreach spreads throughout the community and even reaches into neighboring towns. They provide emergency medical standby coverage with personnel, ambulances and their bike team for major events from town green functions to the Suffield Invitational Soccer Tournament, as well as out-of-town events like the Taste of Enfield.

Another activity of the SVAA which finds its success through the efforts of volunteers is sponsoring a family through the Emergency Aid Association for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The group also provides backpacks for students who otherwise could not afford them and sponsors holiday children's parties within the community.

Volunteers for the SVAA include homemakers, students, retirees and business owners; people of all ages who wish to contribute their time and talents to helping others. To find out more about volunteering with them, visit www.suffieldems.org or call 860-668-3881.

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