MASSENA — When Emily Cafarella was a senior at Madrid-Waddington High School in 2017, she knew she wanted to attend Canton’s St. Lawrence University to study neuroscience. But it wasn’t until she arrived at SLU that she had a formative experience, solidifying an interest in emergency services.
During her first year at SLU, Ms. Cafarella called university emergency medical services for a friend, for a non-life threatening incident, and was fascinated by how the EMTs worked.
With a packed weekday class schedule her first year, she took on training with SLU EMS, which requires ride-along shifts with local EMS agencies. At the time, the only agencies offering weekend ride-alongs were Ogdensburg and Massena rescue. So Ms. Cafarella ended up working with Massena Volunteer Emergency Unit and she’s been with the squad ever since.
“The way you get close to people in this field is different than any other job-related closeness I’ve felt,” she said, adding that her fellow first responders show up every day, providing essential care and saving lives. “I’m sure other people have their own version of that type of bond, but nowhere else have I been able to find it.”
Now as a volunteer EMT and officer amid a global public health crisis, Ms. Cafarella and her colleagues have had to adjust some operations to increase sanitation and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“In this line of work you’re always taking precautions,” she said. “But now, things are a little different.”
Before the novel coronavirus pandemic took hold, first responders donned gloves and body pathogen-resistent uniforms. Over the last three months, disinfection procedures after responding to calls have become more involved, responders wear masks on all calls and additional hazard suit gear on sick calls. So much of EMS and ensuring crews have necessary resources is “behind the scenes work.”
And added precautions, Ms. Cafarella said, carry added responsibility and peer accountability.
“Our whole group of officers here has had to really step up and boost morale,” she said.
A Norwood native, Ms. Cafarella has one brother, a Madrid-Waddington high schooler, and her parents are both teachers in the area. Serving her home community, she said, has been especially rewarding, currently working 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. duty shifts every five days while finishing up her junior year at SLU last month.
When she returns to her studies this fall, whether online or in-person, Ms. Cafarella will continue taking on-call shifts for SLU EMS and is determined to finish her degree as she has “come this far.” She plans to apply for nursing programs after graduation.
She’s most encouraged by the EMS professionals who have fostered a learning environment for young responders over the last three years, citing the willingness of veteran staffers to engage young colleagues, lead by example and share years of acquired knowledge.
“Everyone has been so kind and open and willing to share what they know with a newcomer,” she said. “That’s been so special.”