Ambulance corps saves lives in snow

The Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters on Metropolitan Avenue. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

When Forest Hills was hit with mountains of snow Dec. 26, a local volunteer organization was patrolling the neighborhood as police, firefighters and medical personnel were facing overwhelming demand and long delays.

The Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps pulled out of the garage at 92-29 Metropolitan Ave. at 11 a.m. and did not return until 4 a.m. Monday morning, according to Ron Cohen, a spokesman for the corps, after the city asked for assistance.

“In cases like these, where resources are overwhelmed, [the city] will activate all the volunteers in the community,” Cohen said.

The city agency responsible is called the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City and it plugs groups like the Forest Hills corps into the 911 system so more residents can get medical attention.

The FDNY also provides radios for use in emergency situations for the Forest Hills ambulance.

Cohen said that the weather was brutal and the team had to worry about not getting stranded themselves.

“We spent most of our time trying to not get our ambulance stuck,” Cohen said.

Cohen and his team took along a four-wheel-drive Chevrolet Suburban that would scout out roads before allowing the ambulance to follow, provided the way was clear.

On their first call for the evening, Cohen said they had not even made it to the ambulance yet and were still in the Chevy when they were flagged down near Union Turnpike and Metropolitan Avenue at the scene of an automobile crash.

Two women suffered neck and back injuries and an infant was involved in the accident, Cohen said. The corps called FDNY, which was dispatched from Brooklyn.

“They took a long time,” Cohen said. “We sat in the vehicles with the victims.”

The firefighters arrived, but there was not enough room for all three crash victims and the FDNY had to call in another unit.

“We decided to get our own ambulance a few blocks away on Metropolitan Avenue, and we ended up transporting one patient and the infant to Jamaica Hospital,” Cohen said. “Had we not had our ambulance available, they would have probably sat there for hours.”

The storm gathered strength as the evening wore on, and at about midnight Cohen and his team were taking refuge under the Long Island Rail Road overpass at Queens Boulevard to avoid the deluge of snow that was burying the neighborhood.

A passerby approached the ambulance and told the team that there was an unconscious man lying in the snow at the corner of Queens Boulevard and 62nd Avenue.

“We couldn’t get our ambulance up that block,” Cohen said. “We found him unconscious and the four of us carried him back.”

Cohen did not know the name of the man, but said he appeared to be around 65 years old. The team treated him for hypothermia and took him to Elmhurst Hospital.

The storm raged on at 3 a.m., but the volunteer corps was still out patrolling the streets and received a call from the manager of a Burger King at 92-85 Queens Blvd., who reported a disoriented woman who was being battered by the high winds along the road.

“I haven’t seen winds like that, even during a tornado,” he said.

The team found her and took her to Elmhurst Hospital after she complained of feeling dizzy.

Despite the trips that Cohen and the corps made, the inclement weather prevented them from doing more.

“There were many, many people that needed help,” he said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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