A National Award for our Emergency Squad and All of Us

By Diane M. Loeffler

Congratulations to the Sun City Center Emergency Squad. The nation has recognized what we already know, our squad is amazing! Actually, we are all amazing because we support our Squad in so many ways.

On August 12, we learned that our local Emergency Squad (Squad) was recognized nationally as “Volunteer Rescue Squad” of the year for “Outstanding Service and Professionalism.” The award was given by the professional organization representing Emergency Medical Squads, EMS WORLD. The Squad received a plaque and $1,000. The September EMS WORLD journal will have an article about the Squad.

In a recorded statement, Chief Mike Bardell said, “It is an honor to be selected for such a prestigious award. In times that we find ourselves in, you begin to wonder will it ever end. Being recognized at this time certainly makes you feel you’ve made a difference. On behalf of the over 400 volunteers, I accept and thank you for this award.”

Bardell adds, “This award is for everyone, not just the Squad. It is for the community that supports us and all of the people who went before.”

As of September 2020, the Squad has been serving area residents for 56 years.

Assistant Chief of Communications, Robin Watt, says, “We would like to thank all of our volunteers as well as our community. Without the continued support of our residents, we would not be here. But I also think the leadership of our Chief, Deputy and Assistant Chiefs, the Chief Financial Officer and Board play a large role.” She adds, “This award speaks to the community support we have gotten for so long.”

Most of the Emergency Squad volunteers are residents of Sun City Center’s Community Association and Kings Point. Others come from the community at large, Sebring, Orlando, Pasco County, Manatee County and the University of Southern Florida.

 

Who Else is Recognizing Our Squad?

A radio program in San Francisco interviewed Chief Bardell and others. The Squad was also talked about on PBS Front Line. Speaking of the volunteers, Bardell says, “I am glad they are getting the recognition they deserve.”

Over the years, our Emergency Squad has had visitors from as close as The Villages and as far away as overseas. They all want to know how the Squad operates and how to set up something similar in their communities.

 

Working with Colleges

Did you know that Hillsborough County Community College students accompany our Squad sometimes? They are students studying to be EMTs or Paramedics who are required to ride along for 36 hours. Bardell says, “These are the people who will someday care for us. From us, they learn to listen. Really listening to patients is a culture in this squad. If someone is dying, how are you going to go about caring for them and making them feel not alone? They learn by example to calm the patients and to do things like drive 5 m.p.h. over speed bumps when transporting someone with a broken hip. We teach them to be considerate. This will make them more compassionate in the future.”

 

Operating in the Time of COVID-19

Being appreciated is always a good feeling. During this time of quarantines, masks, and restrictions, many of us have had a difficult time being happy and optimistic. Receiving a national award is a real boost for the Squad at a time when we could all use some good news.

Speaking of good news, there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the Squad. The Squad continues to take the temperatures of everyone who enters the building and  to practice advanced safety precautions. Robin Watt says, “We have three people in here every day to oversee protocols to keep people and equipment safe.” These measures are monitored and overseen by Tina Drury, Deputy Chief in Charge of Operations, Shirley Bardell, Chief of Education and Medical, and Chief Mike Bardell.

Bardell says, “When the virus hit, I thought we would have to shut down. If we don’t have volunteers, we don’t exist. People still have strokes, people still fall down, would we have the volunteers we needed? By March 12, I knew we would be fine.”

Drury says, “We had some volunteers opt out and some are doing different jobs, but most volunteers are continuing as usual. If the schedule is tight for a shift, people have volunteered to come in an extra day.”

Additional volunteers are always needed. Training programs continue with all safety measures in place. Human Resources Director, Assistant Chief Chris McCann works with volunteers. She asked one trainee, “Do you feel safe?” The answer was, “Absolutely. I don’t have any fear at all.”

 

And the Story Continues

Recently a crew of 30-somethings visited our Squad for two days. The intent was to make a documentary about the Squad continuing during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Bardell says, “You should have seen the look on their faces when they saw the volunteers. They were surprised at the ages of the volunteers and the enthusiasm they saw.” One cannot help but wonder, in the end will the documentary focus more on the virus or on the great things seniors in a volunteer-based community can do?

 

Did You Know?

The average age of the 400 Emergency Squad volunteers is 72. The Emergency Squad is the only all-volunteer, all free ambulance service in the state. It doesn’t accept insurance and doesn’t use any tax money. It is completely funded by the community.

The Squad owns its building in front of the shopping strip and also the training center on South Pebble Beach Boulevard. The main building was constructed by Del Webb in 1964. Over the years, it has been expanded and updated. The training center was donated to the Squad by the former volunteer fire department.

Emergency Squad volunteers are trained and have ongoing education to keep their certification and update their knowledge. Volunteers report a feeling of camaraderie and family.

You can borrow wheelchairs, walkers and other assistive items for free.

The Squad works with other organizations to educate people about health concerns and disaster preparedness. They also offer fall prevention presentations, Stop the Bleed training, and CPR training. They work with the University of South Florida Institute for Government and Business on community needs assessments.

Squad members are active participants in emergency squad related meetings and committees both at the state and county level. Call Chris McCann at 813-634-1411 for information on how to become a part of the neighbor helping neighbor family.

The Sun City Center Emergency Squad were recognized by the county commissioners in 2016 and 2020. On June, 2013 they were recognized by the Florida Council on Aging as the top EMS agency in the state for its service to seniors. Most recently, they have won the Volunteer Rescue Squad of the Year for Outstanding Service and Professionalism.

On behalf of grateful people throughout the area, thank you, Emergency Squad Volunteers. You are the best.

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