by Jan Adam, contributing writer
Originally printed in The Herald (6 December 2001)
Austin Henry was face down in a puddle the first time Rick Duffy saw him.
Henry and some classmates had been running and sliding down a muddy slope when he hurt his neck. He could not move, and the school’s athletic trainer carefully lifted his nose out of the water only far enough to allow him to breathe.
Duffy, a paramedic with Foxwall Emergency Medical Service, supervised the process of strapping Henry to a long-spine board, and the slow drive to the hospital emergency room.
“Rick knew what he was doing and he was confident,” recalled Henry.
It’s a good thing. What they later learned is that Henry had broken his neck.
That was 20 years ago. Today, both men continue to serve with Foxwall EMS. Henry is president of the board of directors, and Duffy is chief of operations.
“If it hadn’t been for Rick and the Foxwall team, I wouldn’t be walking today,” Henry said. “These people save lives and make a tremendous difference.”
Foxwall EMS, which serves Fox Chapel, Aspinwall and Blawnox, is looking for increased participation from the people it serves. Area residents are encouraged to subscribe to the emergency service, and to consider volunteer service as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or paramedic.
“It is the only area EMS whose crews are all volunteer,” said Gordon Fisher, operations administrator.
“People think we’re funded by the borough because our base is adjacent to the borough building. But we’re not. There are no taxpayer dollars here,” Fisher said.
Funding for Foxwall comes primarily from subscription memberships from individuals, families and businesses.
For any patient, Foxwall bills the insurance carrier for emergency services. For its subscribers, Foxwall waives any balance above the amount covered.
While Foxwall provides the same emergency care for non-subscribers, patients are billed directly for amounts not covered.
Duffy said that on average, 42 percent of area residents pay the annual subscription.
“We can always do better. It’s what keeps us here,” said Fisher about increasing subscription levels. Many people feel that because they are in good health, they don’t need to be a member, he said.
“If Foxwall were not here, it could be replaced by a private service and that would most likely be taxed,” Fisher said.
Duffy said when he began volunteering, Foxwall responded to about 300 calls each year.
“Now it’s approaching 1,000,” he said.
“People are trained to recognize emergencies, the warning signs of heart attack or stroke. Also, people know how responsive 911 emergency services are,” he said, referring to the increase in calls.
Foxwall has a team of 30-35 volunteers. About one-third are from the communities served, and nearly half are students.
“We would like to have more volunteers to fill some shift times,” said Fisher.
Joanne Herrmann, of Fox Chapel, is one of a dozen women on the team. “I like doing something for the community and being part of the community,” she said.”
Training is usually two or three evenings a week, or a Saturday program, according to Fisher. Most complete their training in three months, and they must put in a minimum of 16 hours per month to maintain active status.
Henry said there is no shortage of present-day stories about saving lives.
“We attend all structure fires,” he said. “Recently, a firefighter in his 60s, went into cardiac arrest at a fire scene. We resuscitated him on the spot, using equipment that is standard in our trucks.”
Foxwall then transported him to an area hospital, and he is now back to work.
In addition to emergency response, Foxwall provides stand-by at high school football games and at other area functions such as public events at Hartwood Acres.
They conduct training sessions, and are currently working with The St. Margaret Foundation to provide defibrillators to local police units. A second phase of the program will provide units to facilities such as schools and clubs.
“We encourage participation and are always interested in new volunteers,” said Fisher. “These guys are saving lives every week.”
How to help
To become a Foxwall subscriber, call 412 963-6611.
Individual subscriptions are $25 annually.
Family subscriptions are $45 annually.
Business subscriptions are based on the number of employees.
To learn more about becoming a paramedic or an emergency medical technician, call 412 963-6611.