We Can Not Thank You Enough
Interview and Article by Andrea Jackson, Executive Director, The 200 Club of Bergen County
The 200 Club of Bergen County would like to give a sincere “Note of Thanks“ to all of our First Responders working through this very difficult time. They are all deserving of our gratitude and our support in any way we can show it.
We are highlighting individual First Responder Departments in Bergen County to both thank them individually and give them the recognition they deserve as they lead the fight – at great risk to themselves – against Covid-19.
Today, we would like to specifically thank and recognize the Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps. One of their members and current Crew Chief for the WVAC is Linda Andresen. I had the honor of speaking with Linda regarding her experience being a volunteer during this Covid-19 time.
Located in the northern region of Bergen County, the Borough of Westwood looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Known as the “Hub of the Pascack Valley” due to Westwood’s central location, it has a thriving main shopping center with numerous mom and pop specialty shops and restaurants. It is also home to a NJ Transit train station which serves many of Westwood’s 10,000 plus residents and neighboring towns as well.
The Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps (WVAC) keeps busy as their town continues to grow and change. Back in 1935 when the WVAC was first formed, things were a little quieter. For as much as times have changed the WVAC members, much like the original members back in the early 1900’s, continue to serve their community because they care.
Current Crew Chief, Linda Andresen a long-time resident of Westwood, decided to join the corps about four years ago when her husband Jon said he was joining. Linda, a mother of triplets – two girls and a boy now age 19 – has kept herself more than busy over the years. Joining the volunteer ambulance corps seemed like a new challenge and one that she could share with her husband. At the beginning of her service, Linda said she would go out on calls and witnessed minor injuries to real life and death situations: “you knew you were helping your neighbors and that you were making a difference. It is what kept me going and enjoying my time as a volunteer.” Along the way, Linda found time in her already very busy schedule and started a job working at Starbucks in Westwood. Then her world, along with everyone else’s, went upside down as the spread of the Coronavirus ramped up quickly. Her job was on hold as Starbucks closed. For some people, they might have used this “extra” time to stay home and be with family. However, Linda chose to use her “extra’ time by volunteering additional hours to the Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
There was a new reality which Linda and her team were beginning to understand quickly. They would be dealing with this unseen virus that can have devastating effects along with so many unanswered questions: “as Covid-19 calls starting coming in we were all learning with no real-time to digest it all, it was all just happening so fast. To add to this, I am also the Crew Chief and I am responsible for making decisions that can really affect my fellow member’s lives.”
At the end of March, Linda and her husband were on a Covid-19 call. This was her Ground Zero, as Linda witnessed firsthand just how deadly this virus can be. At the end of that day, Linda shared her thoughts in writing for her fellow team members and friends. Talking with me for this Note of Thanks, Linda told me her experience once again. She said it likely reflects what so many Frist Responders are going through every day during this Covid-19 pandemic. “The call that day was to the home of a Covid-19 positive patient. As we arrived on the scene the air was thick with confusion as my husband and crew partner Jon and I were trying to get status on the patient. As your trying to remain composed and get the needed information on the patient, you’re assessing your surroundings and doing your best to follow all of the new procedures and protocol now in place. All of these things are racing in your head while instinctively, you are being compassionate and doing all you can for your patient. As the patient was now unresponsive, I watched as my husband began to perform CPR. My thoughts were all over the place, watching your crew member again who is also my husband, risking his life by doing CPR. I was seeing the faces of the family as they were around us, some of which were also Covid-19 positive, standing there watching us. They were looking at us to try to work some magic, but reality sets in as you realize we could only do so much that day and that we are only human. In the past, when a call was over, you could decompress and put things in their proper perspective. Not with Covid-19. Now I was not only thinking about the loss of a human life and the family that we left behind but I was also thinking about my husband and his risk. You try to remain focused while making a mental checklist of what equipment you used and what you touched. These are things you would never think about before this virus but now in Covid-19 times all of this really matters! Another difficult part of Covid-19 calls is going back to your department. This is now a monumental task as you, your crew member, the rig and everything in the rig has to be decontaminated. Once you have gone through all of that you can finally go home. Going home used to have a feeling of being safe, not anymore. You realize this unseen invisible virus can be with you and that your exposure could be endangering your family, your children, your parents, it’s overwhelming!”
Linda did inform me that one of her daughters who is also a volunteer EMT did contract Covid-19. “It was heart-wrenching as you wonder where she got it from. You cannot help but think as a parent it is your job to protect them, but in these times, you can only do your best and that sometimes that’s not enough.”
Linda gives so much credit to her follow volunteer ambulance corps members: “they are all amazing, along with the Westwood Volunteer Firefighters and Police. We are so interwoven in this and all just trying to do our best in not the best of times. As every week passes Covid-19 protocol changes and more and more information is shared about this virus. But, as Linda said, “at the end of the day, it is still a daunting task as you realize we are far from being over this”.
The most important thing Linda wanted to share is how she hopes people have a better understanding of the importance of the jobs our First Responders are doing: “so many Bergen County departments for Fire and Ambulance are volunteers. We make no salary, no benefits or pension but we are there, at 11 at night or 3 in the morning, on the front lines doing our best. It is so nice to see how people are now going out of their way to thank us, it feels good. I just hope that when this Covid-19 pandemic is over, they remember the sacrifices we have all made. I consider being a Volunteer First Responder an honor, one that I do not take lightly. For me and for so many other volunteers, we know that we have made a difference during this time. It’s not easy, there are days I can think of every reason to stay home and safe, but this is what we have chosen to do and what we have trained for. Doing all that we can, for our community. I really believe it is what will make us all stronger for a better tomorrow. That’s my hope, and what keeps me going.“
As Linda says, it is important for all of us to honor and remember the sacrifices that the Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps and all First Responders have made serving their community and risking their lives on our behalf. To all at the Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corps, you have our heartfelt gratitude, appreciation, and support. We can never thank you enough for being there for us in this crucial time of need.