For those of you who don't yet know me, my name is Christine Sarracino. I am 27 years old, a lifelong resident of Wood-Ridge, NJ (a small town of one square mile in the shadow of the Meadowlands) and I can say, with certainty, that becoming involved in public safety was something I knew I was always meant to do. I grew up around the shiny, white-over-red fire trucks, and seeds were planted from an early age that, someday, I wanted to be just like my dad. The firefighters were people I admired, particularly since nearly all of them have
lived in this town for many years; on top of that, they are all volunteers, not taking a salary for their service to the town. A little more than two years after I finished my bachelor's degree I finally stepped forward to join the department where my family's legacy began. However, unlike a younger sister who became a firefighter, I have been involved in emergency medical services which are also provided by our fire department. It wasn't without difficulties, however, both as far as learning the skills I needed to become an effective Emergency Medical Technician as well as dealing with other personalities. I succeeded in obtaining my EMT-Basic certification in July of 2010 and spent the
following year-and-a-half honing my skills in practical situations. Besides that, I took courses dealing with various topics, but have not been able to keep up my acquisition of knowledge and CEUs due to resigning from the department in March of 2012. I hope to resume my continuing education once I return to "active duty"; thgh it is not going to happen at this very moment, I'm working to pick up the pieces and find psychological and spiritual healing, through intense study of how the unconscious mind works coupled with making vocal and
contemplative prayer a part of my life. My thoughts have also recently turned to finding the other half of my lifelong dream...that is, finally undertaking training to become a firefighter.
1. What is your current title & some of your previous experience?
I am a New Jersey state-certified EMT, and I spent two years and four months with the Wood-Ridge Fire Department Emergency Squad before my resignation. I haven't been with any other squads during my time off the department, but there had to have been at least one or two calls where I assisted a mutual aid squad from another town during my time as an EMS-only member with Wood-Ridge. Currently I am not with another emergency squad or ambulance corps, but the more pressing need is to become psychologically and spiritually "fit" before I'll get back on an ambulance.
2. What is your favorite part of working for your department?
What I loved most was the knowledge of being part of a team and having belonged to a department that has 115 years of dedicated service and commitment to the safety of Wood-Ridge and its residents. My greatest joy was knowing that I could be there to, hopefully, make a patient's worst day just a little bit better. The other thing that was so great about being part of the Wood-Ridge Fire Department and its Emergency Squad was that I wa continuing its tradition of service, keeping the family legacy alive and hopefully becoming a positive influence for others (including any children I may have someday) who may want to enter the fire and emergency medical services. Volunteerism is slowly dying out due to economic conditions and budget crunches, but I wouldn't trade volunteering as an EMT for anything in the world. I may not be able to continue that legacy in my hometown, but perhaps it'll begin with me elsewhere.
3. How do you define success?
Success is not necessarily attaining a rank or being the one who has a lot of citations or life-saving awards; nor is it always being the most highly-decorated member or one with the fattest folder of certificates given for meritorious conduct. Success, at least as I see it, has less to do with what honors one earns and more with what one does to prepare oneself to perform the task at hand. I learned very early on that success as an EMT is driven by a passion for the pursuit of education to continually expand and re-form one's knowledge, because there are new things to learn all the time. Another way I define it is learning from one's mistakes by practicing until it can be done in one's sleep...this is where a need for training comes in, and it can be discouraging to have to try and practice one's skills all by themselves (it is made more difficult if it's something that requires more than one person, plus a "patient" on whom one can practice, but no one is around to want to train with you). Mentoring is very important if someone wants to experience success in EMS, just as it's found to be very important today for new firefighters to find a member with knowledge and experience who is willing to share it with that new
initiate. My hope is to be a mentor--if nothing else--to new EMTs, as I was mentored by a credentialed, experienced, and wise firefighter/EMT during my "pre-EMT school" stage.
4. What have you learned in your lifetime that you'd like to share with the younger generation?
I have four pieces of wisdom to share from what I've gained in my brief time as an "active duty" EMT:
When you first break into the field of EMS, seek out a mentor. This will usually be someone in a position of formal leadership--though not always--who is not only experienced and knowledgeable, but also has an intuitive sense of just how to teach a newcomer to the emergency medical services. It's not typically the one who is the loudest, most outspoken, or who walks with the most swagger about the experiences they've had during their years of service; the mentor is just the opposite, in fact, someone who is quiet, hard-working, always does the right thing even if it isn't the most popular, and looks out for the interests and safety of others. He or she can also be someone who acts as a sounding board for the new person's concerns, provides necessary advice and words of wisdom, instills enthusiasm and passion for learning, all the while guiding the newcomer along the right path.
Always strive for your best, even if you may fall short; persevere and set the bar higher each time, and practice when you have free time. Do self-Q&A after each call. Ask yourself, "What did I do right? What could I have done better or differently so that a patient might have a better outcome? What lesson can I take away from this call?" These are just a few questions that can be used to assess the job you did on the run you just completed. The answers can then help you figure out your strong areas, where you're weaker and need more work, and give you an idea of how to make yourself a better EMT overall.
Unless you're either much psychologically stronger than I have been before, or else emotionally dead, the tough calls WILL have a profound effect on you. It took me quite some time to realize that behavioral problems that hampered my performance, in many areas of my adult life, were caused by unconscious anger and resentment I'd harbored towards other people. I was sabotaging myself. I'm not totally there yet, but little by little God shows me where I'm still lacking and gives me His grace freely. I am grateful every day that God finally gave me this wake-up call, that it came sooner rather than later, or else I don't know where I'd be by now.
Lastly, NEVER post anything on a social networking site that could come back to bite you you-know-where. It's a painful experience. Privacy settings are a beautiful thing, but even so, beware of the content you may share with others.
5. What is your favorite hobby?
I love to read anything informative, and I also like fiction, my favorite book genre. Besides that, I enjoy listening to music (mainly my choices go along with the way I'm feeling at any given point in time) and doing occasional graphic design on the side.
6. Who has had the greatest influence on you?
Two people have easily had the greatest influence on who I am, at least how I came to be in EMS as well the way I put down my roots and began to grow as an EMT. I will describe in brief below.
First and foremost would be my dad, who has been a volunteer firefighter and certified first responder with the Wood-Ridge Fire Department and Emergency Squad for over 38 years. I admire him because, with his years of service and being at the age of 60, he could easily be retired from service by now but there is a fire in him that's hard to put out. Since firefighting is in the family, both my dad and his brother (who is an ex-Chief) have been involved with the same fire department all their lives; they have a brother-in-law who is a former Assistant Chief with an engine company in the town where he lived before moving. However, I feel I have been called to be involved in the emergency medical services, as medical emergencies now make up at least 80% of the annual call volume, if not more than that. I credit my dad with being the source of this love of volunteering for the community.
The other is a former member and officer of the department who resigned in early 2011, the week he was to take the oath again as First Assistant Chief. He laid the foundation on which I began to build--sometimes shakily, other times more solidly--my skills and knowledge in EMS. When running calls in the early weeks of probation, if he was the EMT on the ambulance, he would allow me to observe and assist him with patient care until I began EMT school. Heck, he even sparked my interest in taking a course to become a Rescue Technician even before I had registered for the Emergency Medical Technician course I needed to take first! The other thing I admired about him was his ability to listen and defuse tense situations with wisdom, justice, and diplomacy; he was the "zen master" from whom I would seek advice in order to steer myself in the right direction.
7. What will be your legacy? Is the world better because of you/your work/your influence?
My legacy, hopefully, will be one of untiring service to the people of Wood-Ridge, or wherever I may happen to settle and work as an EMT. However, I hope the greater element of my legacy is being remembered as a mentor to the younger and newer members of the emergency medical services just as that firefighter/EMT and former officer had been to me. I would like to be remembered as the one young people could approach for sage advice, assistance in expanding their expertise in the field, and lighting a fire under them to ignite
a passion for learning. So far, I have had a small impact on the community I live in, as people who have received assistance from our emergency squad sometimes see me and thank me for helping them or a relative when they were a patient. My influence as a potential mentor has not had as far a reach yet, but I'm hoping to be able to coach newcomers and be respected by them, at least as an informal leader even if I do not get to wear officer's bars. I am actually a firm believer in giving respect to others all the way up and all the way down the ranks, from the highest-ranking officer and the most season veteran to the greenest probie. I don't believe in completely withholding respect to those with less experience, kicking them around until they can impress me. This is where the Golden Rule comes into play: "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you." Remembering and living by it is crucial if a department wants to retain members, as the ones with the highest turnover numbers are the ones that typically fail in this area by alienating, discriminating, searching for any means possible to force out "undesirables".
8. What's the funniest work story/ event you remember?
No one specific story or event comes to mind, but I can recall smiling to myself whenever someone was surprised to find my presence behind the bar while they were in the larger meeting room. I think of myself as an "EMS Ninja" because I tended to appear and disappear without much warning; one minute I'd be there, the next I'd be gone and people would think that I simply vanished by magic! I also remember the rapier wit of my former mentor would make me smile and laugh, as he preferred to counter verbal jabs with his characteristic dry humor rather than handle it by physical means.
9. Is there anything I haven't asked about that you would care to comment on?
During my time away from "active duty", I've had to think about a lot of things. I've had to prioritize what is most important to me, including whether or not familiar surroundings can foster my personal growth and development or if I have to "cut the cord" and continue the tradition in another place. I'm grateful to have had a fantastic network of firefighter friends (some company officers, others chief officers) who were there to support me; I might be worse off for wear and unable to have hoped to return to where I started, with a fresh
outlook, had it not been for these people. They've not only consoled me with their words, but have also counseled me from their years of experience and inspired me to really look at what it means to be a leader, whether formal or informal. I've learned that experience not only comes with time but also with how often you apply your skills and really get your hands dirty. It also is enhanced the more one educates themselves and stays informed on the latest in firefighting and emergency medical service trends and research...above all,
change requires an open mind, open ears, and an open heart to embrace what is already good and what can be improved. These friends, although I haven't met them in person (save for a couple of them), have become Brothers and Sisters to me.
I learned that Brotherhood means being able to let someone lean on you during their difficult times, that even if you can't help them personally you can at least offer something that may be of assistance to them, even if it's just words of encouragement. I realized my mistake wasn't worth the self-degradation and loss of dignity, as well as the loss of respect that can come with such a big misstep. Thanks to the firefighters with whom I've connected, my sense of hope and resolve has been restored. I am ready to be someone who will work hard, expect the very best of myself as an EMT, and hopefully help to lead the future of the department I join in a new, positive
Besides learning the true definition of Brotherhood, I have worked on styling myself a student of "the best in the business", those firefighters, EMTs, and Paramedics who are on the cutting edge of trends in fire and EMS. One has to go outside the limited scope of whatever department to which they belonged if they wish to find out more about what others are doing to make forward progress in how we fight fire and care for our patients as EMTs and Paramedics. The old saying, "200 years of tradition unimpeded by progress,"
only applies to those departments whose members are not willing to make progress, to read up on the latest fire service news and research, or to expand their horizons and even change their SOPs/SOGs regarding patient care if they are not aware of how commonly-used methods of patient care may sometimes cause more harm than good, contrary to what they were taught. Leadership, as I've
learned, can be found at all levels up and down the ranks if we open our eyes and really take a good, hard look, and it's not just the salty veterans who have something to teach...sometimes it's the new guy or girl who may have a lesson for them to learn. All of us need to be humble and have a beginner's mindset when it comes to learning, myself included. When you open your mind to different opinions, different ways of performing a task, different techniques that will change how we work as firefighters and EMTs/Paramedics in the future,
the wealth of information and experience that is shared with you (and others who are open and willing to learn) has a tremendous impact. But we shouldn't keep that information to ourselves, because it doesn't benefit if others don't know the same thing; we need to share it, so we can protect all our Brothers and Sisters. It could very well save a life!
10. What is your favorite dinner & what do you drink with it?
This is a tough one for me to answer. I like various kinds of dinners, but since you asked me to choose just one, a favorite since childhood has been our occasional Saturday evening Polish-style dinner with the staples of kielbasa and sauerkraut cooked together in a pot, served with pierogie (horseradish or mustard may be had on the side). I have no preference for what I drink with it.
The Coming and Aftermath of Sandy
The wrath of Superstorm Sandy was felt by many in the Tri-State Area when she made landfall in the early morning hours of October 29th. Even during the previous evening her presence was keenly felt by many as the outer bands were the first to come ashore before the eye. Sandy was a storm unlike any experienced by those on the East Coast, and its effects were felt as far away as Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada. What made it so eerie--and dangerous--was the fact that it was only a tropical storm, yet the millibars (measurement for the pressure around the central circulation of a hurricane or tropical storm) were quite low, causing the hurricane-force winds to spread out and cover an extremely wide field. I recall being at home when Sandy came knocking; the sustained gale-force winds whipped about the flag on the neighbor's flagpole, and while we did get some rain, it was the winds that
turned out to be the more dangerous part of the storm for us, since we were on the northern edge of the bands swirling counter-clockwise about the storm's eye.
It was like nothing I'd ever seen before, and what was even more frightening to see was watching, with wide eyes, while green and blue flashes of light could be seen against the cloudy nighttime sky. I swore I'd been dropped into the move "Twister" and began trying to look for a funnel cloud, even though one didn't exist (though the area was put under a tornado watch due to the intensity of Sandy's winds, which could possibly cause rotation within one of the bands on her outer edge).
At approximately 1845 hrs the lights in the house flickered, then darkened for a minute or two before coming back on. My family all believed it was a temporary trip on the power grid, but only seconds after the electricity had restored itself did it go out again. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes slowly ticked on into hours, yet the house--and, moreover, a whole stretch of street--remained dark the rest of the night. As my phone's battery was draining itself, I had no means of charging it, thus I took the risk of going out into the wind and rain to find a store that was still open and might even have a charger to plug into my car's power outlet. Two local CVS stores were closed,
and a local supermarket didn't carry such an item, so the trip was a wash; it so happened, however, that a guy I was seeing at the time dropped off two chargers in the house mailbox while I was out in the storm, so I finally had a means to recharge my phone in my car. Morning followed--gray, dreary, and still quite windy--with only natural light from outside helping us to see anything inside the house.
Work went on as usual for me, except that we saw a much sharper uptick in customer volume. Many people throughout town were without electricity, thus the necessity to buy non-perishable food became much more evident to them. I even did a little shopping of my own in order to help support a drive at the local high school; not only were non-perishables collected, there were tables full of toys for children, cleaning supplies, and chairs in the auditorium were draped with clothing according to gender and size. It was amazing, heartening, to see people go out of their way to assist their neighbors in need, as many people in the nearby towns of Moonachie and Little Ferry had their homes flooded and possessions were lost as the river overflowed a berm and spilled into the streets. The cleaning supplies would be very much needed in the coming days as the water receded and homeowners would have to begin the battle against mildew and mold inside their homes.
My own experience with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy came one morning when I volunteered to help with cleaning up at the Moonachie Fire Department headquarters. On the outside, it still appeared as it always had...when I stepped inside, that was when reality hit me square in the face. The ceiling on the first floor was gone, and the duct work hung down like an enormous silver snake...the station was unrecognizable as belonging to a fire department. It was there that the President of the fire department was organizing the clean-up
effort, giving tasks to anyone who came to volunteer their time. Cleaning bathrooms would normally seem like a mundane, even vulgar, task, but that day I did my best to make the sinks and the toilets sparkle. A more difficult task was sorting loaned turnouts by town so they would be returned to the correct departments; for that I required assistance, as I was not familiar with which coats and pants went to which department unless it was labeled. Another sunny morning with free time brought me to the building where Moonachie First Aid and
Rescue Squad has been housed (at the time they were given a temporary home with Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department). To see the bare insides of the squad building, ceilings ripped apart revealing duct work and hanging wires, empty walls, floors with nothing occupying their space, was unlike anything I had ever seen. My purpose was to help with cleaning up inside the building, scrubbing floors with bleach from donated American Red Cross cleaning kits, as well as move siding pieces from a trailer being ripped apart so that they could be rinsed down. The teamwork among everyone involved, performing various clean-up tasks, left a feeling of satisfaction long after I had driven home to spend the rest of my day at my regular job. The fire departments and EMS squads of both Moonachie and Little Ferry had been devastated after Sandy's winds and floods wreaked havoc with homes, possessions, and livelihoods. Although they were down, they were definitely NOT out. In fact, they are rebuilding and working to come back stronger than ever, particularly through generous donations of equipment, apparatus, and gear, besides raising funds to replace what was lost.
Long after the gas lines disappeared and electricity was restored to virtually all parts of the Tri-State Area, people are still picking up the pieces. Neighborhoods came together to assist in clean-up efforts, replace lost clothing and other items, and bring at least a
certain amount of normality back to daily life. Of course, it will take many more months for areas that were hardest hit--such as the Jersey Shore--to fully recover; some areas will never look or "feel" the same again after the monster storm tore through and did its worst. We are, however, resilient and tenacious.
Not even the biggest, most destructive weather phenomena can keep us down for very long. We will rebuild, no matter how long it takes!
Thanks for reading, be safe, and God bless!