The Experience of a Lifetime

This is the story of an EMT’s three weeks in Brooklyn at the height of COVID-19.

16-hour days. 12-hour shifts. Six to 10 calls on each shift. Constant fear of infection. Ad-hoc health checks for people who approached her ambulance. Only one day off in three weeks.

So, what made this the experience of a lifetime for Wendy Conway?

A Rapid and Decisive Response

Having completed training as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in 2017, Wendy Conway volunteered for her employer’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) in 2019. She was hoping to be sent to assist during hurricane season, though the opportunity never materialized. It wasn’t to be long before the request for her services was made.

In April 2020, Conway was asked if she would be prepared to travel to New York. The city, ravaged by COVID-19, was in desperate need of help. “I didn’t hesitate. I saw it as a learning experience,” she says.

On April 10, within a couple of days of receiving the call, Wendy had arrived in New York City as part of a 50-ambulance, two-caravan convoy.

Long and Full Days

Based out of the Bronx Zoo, days were long and busy. Wendy’s shifts stretched from 2pm to 2am, responding to an average of six to 10 calls each shift. But this wasn’t the full extent of her average day in NYC. With briefings added and the journey to and from the hotel, the crews were pulling 16-hour days.

Her work was responding to 911 calls, though any one of them could have been a COVID case. She isn’t aware that any of the cases she dealt with turned out to be a COVID patient. “I guess it was the luck of the call,” she says. However, this didn’t mean that precautions weren’t taken.

Hyper-Precautious Routines

Each morning, the incoming crew would spray and decontaminate their ambulance. The same routine was completed after every transfer. When a call came in, the crew would gown and glove up. Crew members wore an N95 and surgical mask. “In effect, we’d double-mask, along with wearing safety glasses,” Conway recalls.

Much More Than 911 Calls

In addition to the 911 calls, Conway said that it was common for people to walk up to an ambulance and ask for a health check. It’s natural for people to be concerned during a health disaster like this. “So, we’d do a basic triage. Most of the time it was just a matter of assuring them they were okay,” she says.

Feeling the Love of a City

The heavy losses from COVID took their toll on the emergency responders in NYC. Without the help of all who came from around the country, and with all the COVID cases on top of the 911 calls, it is probable that the city would not have coped.

While the work that Wendy was doing was hard – long shifts in an uncertain and rapidly-changing situation – it was highly rewarding. Not least because of the enormous love and appreciation she felt from the whole city.

“The local fire departments would welcome us into their stations and feed us. We’d get fire department patches wherever we went, so we started seeing how many we could collect,” she says. “And people would see us on the street and clap to show their appreciation.”

When it came time to leave New York, fire trucks and NYC ambulances lined their route to say goodbye and wish them a safe journey – a gesture that brought tears to Wendy’s eyes, who wanted to stay, but was ready to return home.

Looking to the Future

It has now been a year since Wendy was in Brooklyn. She will complete her training to become a certified paramedic this year. Of her time in Brooklyn, she told us:

“It was an experience of a lifetime. I have made friends that are like family that live all over the States.  My heart is in EMS. I am ready to jump right in for my next assignment, the moment a call or text comes in, to work the frontline of a natural disaster or whatever is thrown at me.”

We are proud that Wendy is one of our own. An amazing example of our people.

“I love QS Nurses and will be celebrating 10 years with the agency this year,” she says. “I’ve been able to work per diem for them as a CNA/CMA while working towards my dream of being a paramedic.”