Lawrence Township municipal manager Kevin Nerwinski.

May you grow up to be righteous.

May you grow up to be true.

May you always know the truth and

See the lights surrounding you.

May you always be courageous,

Stand upright and be strong.

May you stay forever young.

—Bob Dylan

I am certain that since last March all of us have been challenged in some way by the world health pandemic known as COVIS-19.

These challenges are too numerous to mention but suffice it to say that there are many degrees and angles where this virus has wreaked havoc upon us individually and collectively. As we often do in times of crisis, we look to identify and appreciate those who selflessly act for the benefit and care of others.

With the pandemic, our healthcare providers are front and center in the fight against the virus. Doctors, nurses and other hospital workers have rightfully been the recipients of our daily appreciation and respect.

However, I must say, for months I have had this nagging feeling that one group of medical professionals, our emergency medical staff (EMS), have not received the recognition they deserve for what they do each day through this health crisis.

I hope with this article, the readers can understand the circumstances in which they have performed their jobs over the past year. It is the definition of courage, and they are heroes.

Lawrence Township EMS has one supervisor, eight full-time, and 25 per diem EMTs (emergency medical technicians) that serve our community seven days a week, 365 days a year.

They are highly skilled and certified in pre-hospital emergency patient care for medical and traumatic incidents. There is a fleet of three basic life support ambulances and one first-responder vehicle. Each ambulance is staffed with a two-person crew that serves on a twelve-hour shift rotation.

Late last week, I had the chance to sit and talk with one of our EMTs about her experiences during this pandemic.

She described the difficult circumstances in which they work and the emotional and physical toll on her and her co-workers. In addition to seeing more death in the last year than she had in her entire career, she also expressed a feeling of isolation and a lack of support.

As I listened to her describe what they go through on any given day, I felt ashamed that I had not fully understood their experiences.

I often speak of the importance of making sure each employee feels valued, respected, and supported. The conversation forced me to acknowledge that I failed them.

Last week at our council meeting, Jack Oakley (director of Fire and Emergency Medical Services) made his budget presentation to the governing body.

Along with discussing the department’s financial situation, he also made sure to highlight the efforts of our EMTs. He described them as being at the “tip of the spear” in this fight against COVID-19.

It is an entirely accurate description. It is the EMTs that respond to emergency medical situations. Whether it is going to a resident’s home or responding to various types of accidents that involve personal injuries, what makes them different is that they go to the crisis.

The very nature of their job places them in situations requiring them to work in uncontrolled and unsterilized environments. During this pandemic, they must wear a full-body suit and oxygen mask to respond to each emergency call.

Picture an astronaut or bomb squad specialist in full-gear, and you get a good sense of how they must work. They place themselves in the direct path of the virus when they provide medical services to contagious and sick individuals.

Over this past year, they have witnessed death like they never had in their careers. They have felt frustrated by the restrictions placed upon them in how they render aid to contagious patients. The EMT I spoke with told me that these COVID-19 restrictions are, at times, directly in conflict with their training, experience and the mindset to do all they can in service to their patients.

After each call to service, they return to the station and decontaminate their suits, equipment, and vehicles. They sometimes shower six times a day and are forced to live with the fear that they may either catch the virus or bring it into their home and expose their family members to the deadly disease.

Replay this every day, and you should come to understand how courageous and heroic these professionals are in the service of our community. If you see one out and about, please make sure to thank them for their service.

Note: I understand that many people deserve recognition and appreciation for their contributions to the fight against this virus. My intent in this article was to highlight one particular group’s effort, and it is not to be taken as devaluing any of the efforts of others.

Go to risefirstresponders.com/2020/01/susans-story to read about Lawrence Township EMS first responder Susan Ash.

Kevin Nerwinski, a longtime resident of Lawrence, serves as Lawrence Township’s municipal manager.