CAZENOVIA — The Cazenovia Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps (CAVAC) is currently seeking additional volunteer members, especially nighttime drivers.
Established in 1974 and currently based at 106 Nelson St., the local ambulance service relies on volunteer drivers, crew coordinators, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and general members, as well as paid professional paramedics. A high school student corps also supports its operations.
In addition to providing emergency medical services (EMS), CAVAC also serves the community through the short-term loaning of medical equipment, such as crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs. Additionally, the organization has a New York State-certified child/baby car seat installer. The no-cost service can be arranged by calling 315-655-9798.
According to CAVAC driver and EMT Scott Whitmore, the agency has two identical ambulances and transports patients to the following hospitals: Crouse, Upstate, Community, St. Joseph’s, Hamilton, and Oneida.
Whitmore said CAVAC always has a primary ambulance with a driver and a paramedic on duty to respond to a first call. Ideally, there is also an EMT on the crew.
He added that the organization would ideally always have a backup driver and paramedic scheduled to be available to respond to a second emergency if the primary ambulance is already out on a call.
“They would need to come into [the] base at CAVAC, and there may or may not be a second call when the primary is out,” he said. “. . . A typical scenario would be the primary is out and the crew coordinators will attempt to find a backup driver and paramedic or an EMT to handle a potential second call.”
If a backup crew is not secured and a second call for service comes in, CAVAC must request aid from other agencies.
Whitmore noted that CAVAC also sometimes covers calls for other agencies with mutual aid agreements if they are unable to respond.
Cazenovia Fire Department and a few other nearby volunteer fire agencies with EMT members often respond to medical calls in CAVAC’s district. However, their vehicles are not equipped for hospital transport.
“. . . Over the course of the year, we may average around three calls a day,” said Whitmore. “As an example, we had no calls on May 3 and we had seven calls on May 4, so having backup was more important that day as the primary rig was out often.”
To assist crews when they are out on calls, residents are encouraged to ensure that their house addresses are visible from the street and to post their prescription medications on their refrigerator doors.
Currently, CAVAC has three paramedics who work most of its shifts, and some additional paramedics who may pick up one to two 12-hour shifts a week, according to Whitmore.
CAVAC’s volunteer drivers are primarily responsible for driving the ambulance to the scene of an emergency, to the hospital, and then back to base. They are also responsible for helping the paramedic and/or EMT with equipment, lifting patients as needed, and cleaning and restocking the ambulance after returning to base. They typically work six-hour shifts, but some circumstances may require extended shifts.
“If someone is on from noon to 6 p.m. and there is a call at 5:45 p.m. before your replacement comes in, you still need to respond to the call,” explained Whitmore. “And if that becomes a hospital transport, your six-hour shift could end up being eight.”
CAVAC is currently experiencing a need for drivers available to work the 6 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 6 a.m. shifts.
The midnight to 6 a.m. shifts can be done from home with a pager if a driver lives close enough to the base. CAVAC also has a bedroom for drivers to sleep in.
EMTs, who also work six-hour shifts, assist the paramedics as crew members on advanced life support calls. They may also handle basic life support calls on their own, serve as backup medical, or fill in as a driver.
Crew coordinators work at the base, ensuring that all shifts have coverage, contacting backup crews, answering the phone, logging call information, greeting the occasional walk-in, and handling other administrative duties. They work four-hour shifts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
“We ask for two shifts a month for drivers, crew coordinators, and EMTs,” said Whitmore. “Some work three or more a week; most work one shift a week. . . Since drivers, crew coordinators, and EMTs are all volunteers and some still work, the numbers we have for each position are less critical than the availability to cover open shifts. So, we could add 10 more drivers, but depending on their schedule availability it may not help address some of our scheduling pain points.”
Whitmore applied to CAVAC after retiring from his job and shortly after moving to the area. He saw the organization as a good way to get involved in his new community.
“Initially, I was a driver and then decided to take the EMT course,” he said. “[My] son had a sudden cardiac arrest when he was 25, and first responders made the difference in his survival.”
For volunteer Greg Wilt, his decision to join CAVAC was motivated by his own near-death experience.
On July 4, 2022, Wilt, who was 53 years old at the time and appeared to be the picture of health, experienced a massive heart attack in his Lincklaen Street home following a 64-mile bicycle ride.
Wilt’s then-girlfriend, now-fiancé Amy Farry, who is a registered nurse, discovered him immediately and administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), but there was no pulse, so she yelled down to her son to call 911.
The local first responders, who were gearing up for the annual Fourth of July parade only a block and a half away, arrived on the scene in no time, resuscitated Wilt with an automated external defibrillator, and transported him to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where his condition was stabilized, and doctors applied two stents and performed an angioplasty to clear the full blockage in his left anterior descending artery.
Just 48 hours later, he was discharged with the expectation that he would make a full recovery.
Following that harrowing experience, Wilt decided to ‘pay it forward’ and give back to his community by becoming a volunteer CAVAC driver and telling his story to the CPR classes at Cazenovia High School.
According to Wilt, the classes are part of the high school’s eighth- and 10th-grade health curricula.
“Each eighth and 10th grader gets CPR trained every school year,” Wilt said. “They have the opportunity to receive certification by paying a small fee.”
Wilt added that he believes CAVAC is planning to start offering public CPR classes on a regular basis.
“My health event was very dramatic, which allows me to draw attention to several things — the importance of getting regular heart health screenings, getting CPR certified, and CAVAC’s need for volunteers,” he said.
CAVAC EMT Steven LaFever, who is currently a medical student at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said the hands-on patient care experience he gained in the CAVAC student corps played a major role in his decision to go into medicine.
“I decided to join the student corps because some of my friends were already part of it and it seemed like an exciting and interesting experience,” said LaFever, who graduated from Cazenovia High School in 2018. “I also realized I might not have that opportunity again and didn’t want to miss out on it.”
LaFever went on to attend Boston College, where he became an EMT his first semester to stay involved in EMS.
“At Boston College, I studied biochemistry and public health, and while I loved both of those subjects, my EMS experience showed me that I wanted something where I was applying information and having an immediate impact on someone’s health, which led me to medicine,” he said.
Despite his current busy schedule, LaFever continues to enjoy and look forward to volunteering with CAVAC during the summers and school breaks.
“The people in CAVAC are wonderful, and it allows me to keep my EMT skills sharp while also practicing things we learn in medical school such as taking patient histories and physical exams,” he said. “I also find it very rewarding to help people in the community and feel very lucky to be in a position where I can give back.”
In recognition of the 49th annual National EMS Week, May 21-27, 2023, CAVAC will be hosting an open station day on Sunday, May 21.
To learn more about applying to become a CAVAC volunteer, visit cavacambulance.org or stop by the base.