It wasn’t the 50th anniversary celebration they were hoping for, but the members of the Scarsdale Volunteer Ambulance Corps understand better than most that nothing this year is turning out the way it was supposed to.
Health department guidelines led to the cancellation of the corps’ annual barbecue celebration, but SVAC President David Raizen was determined to do something to recognize their response to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two and a half months. He organized an online Zoom presentation with politicians and local dignitaries, and NBC sports anchor Bruce Beck, a former Scarsdale resident, as a featured speaker.
Corps members watched from their homes on computer screens, and every member received pizzas courtesy of Amore Pizza.
The first of the guest speakers was New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who pointed out how Scarsdale was in the center of the start of this pandemic and the efforts of the SVAC were noticed in Albany.
“The entire world was watching this region, you were there on the front line, you stepped up, you knew what to do and more people are alive because of you,” said Hochul. “We watched, we learned, we’re in awe of what you did. Thank you from all of us, what you do is not taken for granted.”
Other politicians who participated included State Assemblywoman and Scarsdale resident Amy Paulin, Westchester County Executive George Latimer and New York State Sen. Eliot Engel.
The word hero was a theme in many of the speeches, and Scarsdale Mayor Marc Samwick summed it up, saying, “The word hero is used quite a bit, but I can’t think of a better place to use it than for the volunteer ambulance corps. The work you’ve done is extraordinary, facing heart-wrenching situations, all volunteers. The sacrifice isn’t just yours, it’s your families, and that is heroic. It makes our community stronger and better. What you’ve done in face of great danger, our community is grateful from the bottom of our heart.”
Raizen organized the online event to acknowledge the efforts of his corps members. He knows what it took to accomplish what they did as they quietly answered more than 150 calls for help during the pandemic.
“It went from something being hyped by the media to a disturbing reality for us all,” Raizen said of the response to the coronavirus outbreak. “Many of us established strong bonds doing the right thing to save lives with great efforts in a time of great sadness. You have to live it to fully understand the physical and emotional toll of what went on the past 75 days. The Scarsdale residents may never know how much we did for them. We rose to the challenge.”
The final speaker of the evening was Bruce Beck, who carried on the theme of gratitude for the SVAC heroes.
Beck, a veteran on the New York sports scene, currently as sports anchor for NBC News, was a 26-year resident of Scarsdale. Having raised his family in Scarsdale, Beck said he knows the community well and understands the role the SVAC has fulfilled during the pandemic.
“The heroes of yesteryear were the athletes, the superstars, but the world has changed, it’s changed dramatically and it’s really you guys that are the heroes,” said Beck. “The true heroes of today in this whole battle against COVID-19 are people like you in SVAC. I looked at you guys and saw that you went the extra mile and never missed a call, that you worked 100 hours a week and never said, why.”
Tearing up, Beck continued, “I lost one of my closest friends during this pandemic and so it hits home when people like you respond, go out there selflessly and just honestly care about the people that are hurting, and you should be applauded in the greatest way. You have been amazing during this difficult time in the world and we will remember all of you for all you did, so thank you.”
Beck finished his tribute with inspirational quotes from famous athletes, including tennis great Arthur Ashe, boxing champion Muhammad Ali, and UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden.
The corps plans to hold its annual awards dinner and presentation at the end of the year, but Raizen wanted to recognize members who went above and beyond throughout the pandemic. To that end, Beck and SVAC paramedic David Lawless presented tributes for SVAC members and paramedics Richard Blackly, Hamlet Cuelo and Jim Maher, noting Maher was the “Jolly Giant in a Tyvek suit”, and Cuelo, while out on a call for SVAC, suddenly did not feel well and went to the emergency room for emergency heart surgery.
Paramedic Bob Rizzo was honored for his “heart of gold” when he helped a son put on PPE to say a heartbreaking goodbye to his very ill mother before the crew put her in the ambulance.
Words of thanks also went to instructors Caroline Osborne and Kevin Lynch, and administrator Mary Signorelli and to the following volunteers for their efforts responding during the crisis, those who “could have easily stayed home, but instead they faced this unknown danger.”
EMT Farley Baker, EMT Joe Barker, Matt Chesler, EMT Ellen Gross, A-EMT Jim Gross, EMT Marc Guthartz, EMT Richard Klee, Paramedic David Lawless, Paramedic Heli Mendes, EMT Brendon O’Donoghue, EMT Joanne Ornstein, Paramedic David Raizen, EMT Scott Rubins, EMT Nyle Sally, EMT student Jon Thaler and EMT Lou Vetrone.