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A Vermont EMT Chronicles The 'New Normal' For First Responders

A person wearing a mask and goggles looks into a rearview mirror of an ambulance.
Elodie Reed
VPR File
Patrick Crowley sits for a portrait in an ambulance at Essex Rescue, where he volunteers. He recently kept an audio diary for VPR about what it's like to respond to medical emergencies during a pandemic.

Patrick Crowley, 36, lives in Underhill. During the day he works in marketing, but one or two nights a week he's a volunteer EMT with Essex Rescue. He kept an audio diary for VPR during one of his shifts.

Transcript and recordings have been edited for length and clarity.

6:50 p.m.

So I’m here on a Thursday night. It’s 6:50. I started my shift at 5:45 tonight, and about 15 minutes later, we had our first call, dispatched as a "possible untimely." So sadly that's, you know, a person suspected to have died in their home.

We responded and entered the home and just confirmed... um, confirmed the signs of death. 

Part of being a first responder is learning how to deal with that, but you — you’re left with so many questions. I mean how — We don't know what led to this person's death, we don’t know exactly how long he was there, but [he] appeared to have been there a while, and... yeah. 

I don't know if it’s the result of what we're dealing with, with COVID, or not.

We’re getting another call right now.


A cabinet with "PPE Supplies" written on it, and a white medical hood sitting on a desk.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
The personal protective equipment (PPE) cabinet at Essex Rescue. The hood seen on the desk is for fitting N95 masks.

So I’m here, sitting in the driver’s seat of our ambulance, Essex 2, on our second call. I’ve got a face mask on and goggles, but I’m not inside at the call because one of the things we’re doing is just trying to limit the number of people we put inside a house, the number of people we have in the back of the ambulance with patients.

And of course if we had a call where we needed a larger crew, of course I would put PPE on and help out. But in this case, I'm just waiting to see if they need any help.

At UVM Medical Center

As I sit here waiting for my crew to wrap up the call, I'm noticing a lot of signs around this side of the hospital. Messages of thanks and gratitude to all the health care workers. And, you know, I was thinking about how I volunteer to do this once, maybe sometimes a couple times a week. And after I’m done, I go back home, and I go to work, and I stay home. And it’s just really different for people that do this day in, day out as their job, you know. I'm just feeling a lot of gratitude for all those folks.

1 a.m.

It’s just after 1 a.m. on Thursday night. I am busy trying to complete a report for our third call.

Sometimes you're about ready to go to sleep, but you gotta finish the paperwork. We’ve got a lot of extra questions related to COVID, just in terms of what we wore on scene, and what the answers to some of the COVID screening questions were, and all that. Hoping to just finish up this report, and then we’ll see if we can get some sleep.

A person standing in front of an ambulance wearing a mask and goggles.
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
Patrick Crowley said families often ask to ride in the ambulance with loved ones, but under COVID conditions, they generally aren't allowed to.

4:55 a.m.

It’s 4:55 in the morning. Last call was hours ago. Got a few hours of sleep. Not sure why I’m awake, but I’m awake. 

Thinking back to our first call, the person that had died in their home. You know, this person had 30-something messages on their home phone, on the answering machine in their house.

I don’t know, you can't help but think if this is somehow impacted by everything going on. People reluctant to visit. People reluctant to check on someone. We just obviously don’t know what happened, but comes to mind for sure.  

And then the other thing I guess I’m thinking about is, we had two calls today where there are loved ones that really wanted to come with us, in the ambulance, or follow close behind. And we have to tell people that we can’t have anyone in the ambulance with us, with only a few exceptions for super critical patients. And then that they’re not allowing visitors in the hospital, again, same exceptions.

I’m just thinking about like, the husband who saw his wife go into the hospital tonight, with us. I imagine he's back at home, in the middle of the night, thinking, wondering, what the update is. And of course we relay the hospital his phone number, and I’m sure the hospital is really great about calling family members and keeping them updated in lieu of having visitors there. But it's not the same. 

I wouldn't be surprised at this point if there's some sort of new normal. But all this could also be because I'm awake at 4:58 in the morning. Anyway. I'm here for about another hour. We’ll see what the morning brings.

7 a.m.

A table with a thermometer and a sign reading "please disinfect the thermometer and surface once you are done."
Credit Elodie Reed / VPR
The medical monitoring station at Essex Rescue, where EMTs have to take their temperature at the beginning and end of each shift.

All right, it is exactly 7 o’clock in the morning. Shift is over, has been for a little over an hour. Just caught up with the day crew for a while.

Did my last temperature check before I could leave the building, all good. 

And ready to go home and... work. Yeah, do my day job. 

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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