EMTs practiced responding to a mass shooting during a training drill at Peconic Bay Medical Center last month. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps held an open house at its headquarters Sunday to kick off National EMS Week, a time set aside each year to celebrate emergency services practitioners and the work they do in communities across the United States.

The corps was founded in 1978 to provide emergency medical services for the Riverhead Ambulance District, which takes in about 70 square miles.

RVAC responded to more than 4,200 calls for emergency medical assistance last year, Chief Rod Richardson said Sunday. The corps has five New York State Department of Health certified ambulances and three first-responder vehicles. RVAC currently has about 80 members, with certifications ranging from driver/helper to paramedic. About 25 active members respond to most of the calls, he said.

It’s a very busy department. There have been times when RVAC has had all five ambulances out on calls at once, Richardson said.

Members of Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps at Sunday’s open house, where they offered ambulance tours, CPR lessons and, yes, free hot dogs. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Each year, calls run the gamut of nearly every conceivable emergency situation, from motor vehicle accidents and workplace accidents, to drug overdoses, victims of violence and calls for treatment and transport of patients suffering heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses. 

Since RVAC’s founding in 1978, the population of the Town of Riverhead has burgeoned by more than 66 percent. Nearly a quarter of the town’s population is over age 65 — with 38 percent over age 55, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With the area’s aging population, Richardson can’t stress enough the importance of the cardiac catheterization lab that opened at Peconic Bay Medical Center last year. An interim facility opened at the Riverhead hospital in October, allowing cardiologists to perform life-saving interventional cardiac measures locally.

“Having that capability in town has already saved so many lives,” he said. RVAC transported the first patient in need of an emergency catheterization to the new facility after it opened.

Northwell Health is building an addition to Peconic Bay Medical Center that will house its permanent interventional cardiology suite as well as an expanded emergency room. PBMC was granted provisional level-three trauma center status last year. Having greater trauma treatment capabilities locally is also an important step forward for emergency medical services on the East End, Richardson said.

In addition to being able to provide lifesaving treatment more rapidly, local facilities save the EMS precious time, because transporting cardiac and trauma patients to Stony Brook University Hospital takes ambulances and crews out of town for extended periods of time.

Charter RVAC member Keith Lewin and his grandchildren inside an ambulance rig. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Besides answering emergency calls, RVAC also provides “stand-by” emergency medical coverage for special events such as concerts, sporting events, and other large gatherings of people. RVAC’s EMS bike patrol unit assists its responders in providing medical care in large crowds.

RVAC has recently purchased a John Deere 6×4 Gator ATV, two 16-foot cargo trailers and a climate-controlled rehabilitation tent to help RVAC respond to large-scale disasters.

“It’s important to stay current in an ever-changing field of technology and advances in medicine,” Richardson said.

At Sunday’s open house, RVAC members provided instruction on hands-only CPR, gave ambulance tours and served up refreshments to visitors.

RVAC offered hands-only CPR training Sunday. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Lucy Keillor, 18 months, is the granddaughter of RVAC charter member Jeanne Keillor. Photo: Denise Civiletti

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.