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EMS Week celebrated across Northeastern Pennsylvania

Wilkes-Barre paramedics Brandon Grohowski and Matt Stephenson demonstrate intubation on a dummy during EMS Week.
Aimee Dilger
Wilkes-Barre paramedics Brandon Grohowski and Matt Stephenson demonstrate intubation on a dummy during EMS Week.

Emergency Medical Service (EMS) professionals are often the first on scene to medical emergencies.

“We are your first care," said Bruce Beauvais, a paramedic and EMT program manager for Pennsylvania Ambulance.

The hours are long and the job is strenuous.

"Many times we're overworked with not enough pay," said Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney. "It's a grinding, difficult job to do when you have somebody's life in your hands every single day."

The 50th EMS week wraps up Saturday. It celebrates and brings awareness to the profession.

Pennsylvania's EMS system is made up of 1,205 agencies, with 46,057 EMS-certified professionals, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In 2023, EMS professionals responded to 2.5 million calls for service.

In 2021, EMS of Northeastern Pennsylvania responded to 151,876 emergency and nonemergency calls, according to the most recent state data. The group includes providers in Bradford, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

There are for-profit ambulance companies, including Pennsylvania Ambulance, but there are also volunteer ambulance companies and municipal companies like Wilkes-Barre.

Wilkes-Barre held an open house at the Hollenback Fire Station on Tuesday. Mayor George Brown presented a proclamation to recognize EMS Week.

"We have two ambulances that are staffed 24-hours a day, seven days a week with a paramedic and a firefighter EMT. We have three ... quick response, fire engines that have basic life support equipment on them," said Delaney. “Almost 90% of the work the city fire department does is respond to medical emergencies."

In 2023, the Wilkes-Barre City Fire Department emergency medical service system responded to over 10,000 calls, said Delaney.

Brandon Grohowski, 28, was working jobs he didn’t love. So his wife suggested he look into the profession.

"I did the class, we pulled somebody out of a vehicle, and I found it to be really awesome," he said. "You just go to work and help somebody."

He’s been a paramedic in Wilkes-Barre for three years.

"Sometimes ... it's just having a nice conversation with an old lady who was lonely and she called the ambulance," he said.

EMS is also more than EMTS and paramedics, said Beauvais.

"What a lot of people look at when they ... see the letters EMS, they think ambulance immediately," said Beauvais. "But there is so much more that goes into an emergency medical system.”

He said it’s law enforcement and firefighters, doctors and nurses in emergency rooms and 911 dispatchers.

The company held a Kids Day on Wednesday at McDade Park in Lackawanna County with some of those partners. Scranton Police and State Police were there as well as the city’s fire department and other emergency response organizations.

Kids Day gives back to the community and also familiarizes children with their community EMS providers, he said.

"When they come to community events like this and they see the fire department, the police department and EMS all working together, they can see that we're all one," Beauvais said.

Pennsylvania Ambulance started in Lackawanna County and has since moved into Pike, Wayne and Wyoming counties.

Beauvais said oftentimes low wages come with the job.

"A lot of people do this job out of the goodness of their hearts, and sometimes it only lasts for so long.”

The company has a pay-to-train program for EMTs.

"It allows an individual to come in with no experience and get on the job training, their EMT certification, and paid while they do it," he said.

It pays $10.50 an hour and they must work for PA Ambulance for a year.

Governor Josh Shapiro's proposed budget includes $30 million for the Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant Program. Retaining individuals in the EMS system is a priority for EMS leaders within the state, according to the state.

This year's theme for National EMS Week is “Honoring Our Past—Forging Our Future."

Next year, the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department EMS will be 50 years old. In 1975, Wilkes-Barre’s mayor and city council decided to form an ambulance unit. Previously it was run by private companies. Before that, it was the police department.

Jude Spellman and Sean Chandler helped start it. Both men trained under Dr. John Abda and Ann Manning, a nurse, at the then-CMC Hospital in Scranton. Abda and Manning trained thousands of paramedics in the region.

"It's a very difficult profession. You see the best and the worst," Spellman said. "You're walking into someone's worst nightmare ... and your job is to stabilize that situation, grab hold of whatever you can do, as quickly as you can and get them going, get them moving."

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org