After two years of holding its annual awards banquet either in the ambulance garage or in a tent with rain pouring down on the roof, a celebratory mood existing on March 12 as the Suffield Volunteer Ambulance Association held its banquet indoors at Maneeley’s Banquet Hall in South Windsor.
In the corner was a set solitary table with a picture of Mary Ann Zak, who had contributed so much to the SVAA and the town over the years before her recent passing. Mary Ann was also honored with a moment of silence before the program began. The ceremony began with Chief John Spencer recognizing the accomplishments of the entire organization during the past year, a year dominated by the pandemic and, thankfully, its slowly loosening grip which allowed the beginning of a return to normal.
He noted that in 2021 the Association’s call volume increased by over 5% compared to normal years. It responded to almost 1800 calls for service and provided 1319 transports to our local hospitals . This was accomplished with 81% of the SVAA manpower hours being provided by volunteers. Volunteers accounted for just under 25,000 hours of donated time to the community, with paid staff contributing an additional 5,500 hours. And these hours do not even include time spent in important ancillary service, such as community outreach and training. The Association was able to hire a second full-time paramedic, which both greatly enhanced coverage opportunities and allowed it to meet its commitments to mutual aid with other local emergency services, which cover for each other if a town cannot respond to an emergency in a timely fashion.
The Association resumed its Neighborhood Visit, with ambulances, on schedule rather than in response to an emergency, going to a half dozen predetermined sites so families could learn about the ambulances and the services available. It participated in the revived Suf field on the Green, the 350th celebrations and many other community functions. And on several occasions SVAA volunteers stood outside at school parking lots in windchills under zero degrees to distribute COVID tests and N95 masks to the public. Its members even walked door -to-door at some senior facilities in town.
The Chief then proceeded to recount an event that moved all SVAA members as much as any ever has. This fall the Suffield Police Department dispatch center received a series of 911 calls reporting a child had fallen into a pool. The Suffield Police and Fire Departments and SVAA were all immediately dispatched. The police and fire department personnel arrived to find the child had no pulse and was not breathing. They immediately began life saving, measures including CPR, until the ambulance crew and paramedic arrived on scene and prepared the child for transport. All services coordinated and worked together, attempting to revive the child. Just prior to transport the child regained a pulse. Upon arrival at the hospital he was showing signs of improvement but still needed significant life saving measures. In a turn of events that filled with everyone with joy, a few days later the child was discharged from the hospital with no neurological deficits. He is doing well and recently attended a hockey game with SVAA members.
Unsurprisingly, everyone involved was recognized with a “Life Saving Award”. Helping to present the award were the parents of the youngster (who probably should also get an award for subsequently recruiting about thirty friends to receive CPR training provided by the SVAA). The award winners from the SVAA were Kerri Cushing, Lieutenant Mark Jordan, Deputy Chief Donald Miner, Captain Scott Waddell and Samantha Abraham. From the SPD the award was issued to Officers Erin Fox, Sargent. Justin Nelson and Thomas Kieselback. From the SFD: Firefighter Kevin Seger, Firefighter Dan Godin, Engineer. Steve Domin and Captain John Guzie.
The SVAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which is awarded only when deemed appropriate and not necessarily early was awarded to both Lieutenant Todd Cushing and longtime Trustee and Board member Susan Thorner. Sue was surprised when, just moments before the award was announced, her family appeared to share the moment with her.
The Rising Star Award, unsurprisingly, is awarded to a new member rising quickly through the ranks and who stands out among their peers. This year’s recipient was Tracey Whelen. Jackie Guzzi was selected for the Officers’ Award, given to a member who, in the opinion of the officers, contributes to the attainment of the SVAA’s mission and vision. Jacob Audet was named the recipient of the Perreault Award, given to any member other than the Chief of Service or the President of the organization, who demonstrates service beyond the ordinary.
The Hero Award recognizes those who have risen above and beyond during their lives or course of duties, to render aid to an individual in dire need; it was awarded to Enfield Police Officer Edward Kazmarek. The Chief’s Citation was awarded to Leon Allegretti, who joined the Association as a full-time paramedic during the pandemic. When not saving lives, Leon, an expert with the “smoker,” cooks and feeds other volunteers in the building (the number of whom seems to swell when Leon’s smoker is on). The Zak Award, for a member demonstrating service to the public in addition to the SVAA, was given to Jay Presser.
The Directors’ Award, which is decided and awarded solely by the SVAA Board of Directors, was awarded to the Chief of Services John Spencer. John was hired a few weeks before the pandemic hit. Since then, he has dealt skillfully with the many pandemic issues, coordinating with town agencies and the state. He has helped recruit new members, hired new paramedics, overseen the purchase of a new ambulance and dealt with the repairs to the older one when delivery was delayed due to supply chain issues, managed budgets and actually managed to improve member morale despite the obvious and unexpected difficulties. A job well done!
Sydney Urch (in-town) and Lieutenant Kirsten Carr were recognized for the greatest number of hours volunteering. Lastly, Terry Mandirola and Gordan Stagg were recognized for twenty years of service, and Jack Muska was recognized for his twenty-five years as a provider and Board member.