As part of our newest installment Health Heroes, I spoke with some former SHS students about their involvement as first responders during the global Coronavirus pandemic.
Benjamin Merker graduated from Somers High School in 2015. Since then, he has graduated from Brandeis University, right outside of Boston, MA, with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Politics. He currently works at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in their Boston office supporting Tax and Litigation Attorneys. Merker plans to pursue an advanced degree in the future. From 2014-2019 Merker served as an EMT/First Responder for the Somers Volunteer Fire Department. When attending his tenure with BEMCo he was promoted to Crew Chief and then to Clinical Field Supervisor. Following that, he was also elected to Executive Director of BEMCo for the 2018/2019 academic year.
Evan Kader is a 2018 Somers High School graduate. He is a rising junior nursing student at the University of Rhode Island. After graduating with an RN license, he plans to work in an emergency department of a hospital and partake in global health initiatives. In Rhode Island, Evan is a Corpsman with the University of Rhode Island Emergency Medical Services. When home, Evan is an Emergency Medical Technician and Firefighter with the Somers Volunteer Fire Department.
Jacob Leff is a 2018 graduate of Somers High School and has been a member of the Somers Volunteer Fire Department since 2016 serving as both a firefighter and an EMT. He currently attends the University of Pittsburgh and is majoring in Undergraduate Emergency Medicine with minors in Chemistry and Administration of Justice. Upon graduating from Pitt in 2020, Leff intends to attend medical school and ultimately serve as a doctor of emergency medicine.
Brendan Porteus graduated from Somers High School in 2016. He is currently employed as a 911 Dispatcher for the Westchester County Police and holds two other EMS related jobs. Porteus has been a volunteer firefighter and EMT for the Somers Volunteer Fire Department as a firefighter since a junior in high school. Currently, he holds the position of EMS Lieutenant and carries immense pride working alongside his fellow volunteers helping the residents and visitors of Somers. Last year, Porteus completed several hundred calls for service and received the top responder award, all while working three jobs!
LC: What inspired you to become a volunteer EMT, and continue to pursue helping others when you went away to college?
BM: My brother and sister both joined the SVFD when they were in high school. This inspired me to want to join the organization when I was 16 years old. I always liked the idea of neighbor helping neighbor, an idea central to the SVFD mission. I quickly solidified my passion to serve my community by helping others on their worst days. When I was deciding where to go to college, I knew I wanted to continue with this line of work. I joined BEMCo in my sophomore year. One of the draws of this organization for me was the ability to once again help the people in my community. In addition, I was able to build on my medical and leadership skills. I immediately found a new group of friends who share my same passions. As for my SVFD acquaintances, I have continued to stay in contact with them over the years. I have always been inspired by first responders who make helping others and trying to make someone’s worst day a little bit better a key part of their life.
LC: Describe a day in the life of what you are currently working as during this time.
EK: When I came home for my spring break in March I did not think that the rest of the semester would be at home via an online format. The current situation is certainly unprecedented and a fluid situation. Each day brings something new; if that’s learning something in class or responding to emergency calls in the town of Somers. As a volunteer, you are on call pretty much most of the time, it has certainly been difficult balancing school work with the overwhelming 911 calls. The volunteers with the SVFD have been doing an outstanding job answering these calls for help!
LC: Share a memory (happy or sad) that will forever stick with you from this pandemic.
JL: I am sure that long after the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us I will recall responding to an early morning single-car motor vehicle accident in town. The car had flipped over and come to rest upside down in a driveway. Before careening to a stop, it had collided with and taken down two electrical or cable poles. During this time of mandatory social distancing, myself and the other first responders were shocked to find the car full of teenagers who appeared to be intoxicated. At least two of the young occupants sustained significant injuries and required transport by ambulance to an area hospital. As a first responder, it is always difficult to respond to an accident involving injured young people. This is especially true where the accident, such as this, was wholly preventable.
LC: Has this pandemic required you to go above and beyond what your normal roles/duties require? What have your hours been like?
BP: During this pandemic, my role within the SVFD has, to some degree, changed. While I have always responded to calls no matter the time day or night, our call volume has naturally risen. And, while I feel very strongly about helping people who call, I am now also keenly aware of the need to protect myself and my co-volunteers from contracting COVID-19 since it is highly contagious. Our families are at risk if we are not extremely careful when responding to calls for medical assistance. For me, that presents some conflict and added stress. We are sworn to help those who need us, yet now there is the added concern for our own safety and the safety of those who we encounter. Without a doubt, it is a very stressful time for all first responders everywhere.
LC: How are you staying hopeful during this time?
EK: I think that people in the community need to remember that we are in this together, we are one big TEAM right now. Unfortunately, one person’s actions can affect a whole bunch of other people; remember to keep washing your hands and practicing social distancing. Reach out to your neighbors, friends, and those in need and see how you can support them during these difficult times!
JL: During this time, I take comfort in hearing about the increase in COVID-19 testing as well as the many reported medical breakthroughs concerning potential therapeutics and immunizations. I feel hopeful that the worst is behind us as of this point and because I see so many members of the Somers community adhering to social distancing guidelines. One of the things that help me stay positive is participating, alongside other members of the Somers Volunteer Fire Department, in weekly birthday parades for children in our community. It is great to see the kids’ joyful reactions as fire trucks with horns and sirens blaring pass their homes in their honor. Another thing that makes me hopeful and upbeat is seeing the outpouring of support from our entire town. It is amazing how many people are making masks for medical providers, sending food to them, and to first responders and grocery shopping for our elderly or immune-compromised neighbors. Somers is a really great place to live in.
BP: Despite all of the stress, I see how many first responders have continued to help in any way they can, day and night, despite the personal risk. My soon to be sister-in-law contracted COVID-19 while working as a nurse caring for very sick people and my brother is an NYS Trooper who, like many of us, is at personal risk every day. Yet they, like thousands of us first responders and front-line workers throughout the world, continue to do everything within their power to help our fellow citizens. That gives me hope. In times of great need, our differences are set aside, and we become one community and one family with a common goal: help others who need help. I am proud to be a part of that and volunteer alongside some of the most giving and talented people of Somers. And, I strongly encourage anyone with a bit of time to come on out, join the SVFD, and help your fellow citizens. The sense of satisfaction you will receive will be way more than you’d expect. Stay healthy everyone!