Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps on Aug. 10 honored 55 first responders involved in five cardiac saves this year. Photo: Quint Nigro

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps member Joseph Oliver waited patiently for the applause to die down before he told the story of how he and his crew saved the life of a Manorville man this spring.

On March 28, the crew responded to a call for a man who wasn’t feeling well. It seemed routine at first. Oliver said. They loaded the man onto a stretcher —he was alert and talking to them. But suddenly, the man went into cardiac arrest. 

Oliver’s crew sprung into action and got the man’s heart beating again, by shocking him with a  defibrillator. He even started talking to them again. 

“Wait a second, that’s not supposed to happen,” Oliver thought. Typically, once someone is resuscitated from cardiac arrest, they stay unconscious for a while. One successful resuscitation before the hospital is uncommon. But it happened a total of five times during the ambulance transport to Peconic Bay Medical Center — that’s practically unheard of.

Oliver was speaking at an awards ceremony Thursday night at Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters to honor first responders for decisive and life-saving actions in five separate medical emergencies.  In all, 55 members of local ambulance companies, fire departments and the Riverhead Police Department were honored at the event, which was attended by colleagues, friends, family and local elected officials who presented the honorees with certificates and proclamations.

The Riverhead ambulance crew members honored for the March 28 save were:

  • Abby Coniglio
  • Kenneth Michalouski
  • Joseph Oliver
  • Jacob Phillips
  • Madison Vogel
The crew that saved the life of a Manorville man in cardia arrest March 28.
Photo: Frank Wainright/courtesy Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

RVAC board member Kimberly Pokorny followed Oliver to the microphone to talk about a save at Polish Hall on My 25. 

“You hear the phrase ‘timing is everything,’” Pokorny said. “With our gentleman, that couldn’t be truer.”

Pokorny was in a meeting at headquarters when she got an alert for a potential choking victim at Polish Hall on Marcy Avenue.

“Those can go one of two ways,” Pokorny said. “Either they never were choking, or they’re really choking and they need help.”  

Pokorny and Oliver jumped into a first-responder vehicle and raced to the scene from headquarters. As the headed downtown, they heard on their radio that “it’s definitely choking.”   When they arrived at Polish Hall, they saw police in front of them and people in a frenzy. “I said, ‘Joe, we’re gonna have to go to work.’”

A retired nurse and several Riverhead police officers had already attempted the Heimlich maneuver and begun CPR. The victim’s obstructed airway caused him to go into cardiac arrest, Pokorny said. 

Pokorny and Oliver cleared the man’s airway and by the time he left for the hospital in a Riverhead ambulance, he was talking again. He was discharged from the hospital only a few days later.

Honored for their roles in this rescue were:

Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps members: 

  • Vincent Ciappa
  • Michael Daddona
  • Garrett Lake
  • Joseph Oliver
  • Kimberly Pokorny

Riverhead Police Department members:

  • Public Safety Dispatcher Erin Chester
  • Police Officer John Dahlem
  • Police Officer Anthony Montalbano
  • Police Officer Kevin Thomas
  • Police Officer Joseph Trivelli

Jamesport Fire Department members:

  • Steve Czelatka Sr.
  • Stevie Czelatka Jr.
  • Bill Gilmore
  • Scott McKillop
  • Dave McKillop
  • Haywood Orenstein
RVAC Medical Director Lincoln Cox speaks at the awards cermoney Aug. 10.
Photo: Frank Wainright/courtesy Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Next, Wading River Fire Department Second Assistant Chief Mark Donnelly told the story of a dramatic pre-hospital cardiac arrest save on June 19. 

“This is an amazing accomplishment. This is only possible because of the hard work, dedication and teamwork between the members of the  Wading River Fire Department, Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and Riverhead Town Police,” Donnelly said. “Because of these members on this call, the victim is alive today.”

A 52-year-old Wading River woman who had not been feeling well for about a week suffered a cardiac arrest at her home. Her husband called 911 at 3:11 a.m.  Wading River Fire Department Rescue’s first responder arrived at the home in three minutes,” Donnelly said. The first responder, EMT Nawab Qaderi found the victim in the bathroom, without a pulse, Donnelly said. The assistant chief and WRFD member Brendan Donnelly arrived at 3:19 a.m. After the crew attempted resuscitation in the victim’s home, they put her in an ambulance and at 3:32 a.m. left for Peconic Bay Medical Center, Donnelly said. The hospital was notified of an incoming cardiac arrest.

“Wading River provided high quality CPR, defibrillated the patient two times, provided rescue breathing, suction and attached the LUCAS device to provide mechanical CPR to the patient,” Donnelly said. Since they didn’t have any advanced life support providers available, Donnelly requested mutual aid from Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance. Advanced life support training provides EMTs with the skills needed for advanced life-saving measures. 

RVAC Paradmedic Sean Rossner and Matthew Dinson met the Wading River ambulance en route, at the border of the Riverhead Ambulance District and the Wading River Fire District. Donnelly called Rossner to the microphone to recount the steps they took.

Rossner said he and Dinson had just left a cardiac arrest patient at PBMC. 

“We were called out to Wading River as my partner was backing our ambulance into the bay [at PBMC] so we had to quickly step out and get into our second ambulance, as we didn’t have supplies to work with this [cardiac]  arrest,” he said.

Wading River responders explained in detail what had happened up to that point, Rossner said. 

“​​While establishing advanced life support, I was able to perform a 12-lead EKG, a diagnostic picture of the heart used to detect damage, and I was able to conclude by differential diagnosis that a heart attack was the culprit of cardiac arrest,” Rossner said.  

“This image of the patient’s heart was electronically transmitted to Peconic Bay Medical Center where the cardiac cath lab was activated prior to arrival,” Rossner said. The cardiac catheterization lab is a specially equipped operating room where cardiologists perform procedures to open arteries to prevent, and even stop, heart attacks. 

“This early activation was crucial to the patient’s survival as it showed that one of the main coronary arteries with a 99% occlusion [blockage]. The clot was removed and a stent was placed, effectively saving the patient’s life,” Rossner said.

RVAC Medical Director and PBMC Chair of Emergency Medicine Dr. Lincoln Cox said emergency medical service is not only a “team sport” but also “a 24-hour sport.” 

“A lot of these times these calls happen in the middle of the night and the crews are always available to deliver excellent care,” Cox said. “You make our job so much easier in the hospital because everything gets started” before the patient even arrives, Cox said. 

Cox then called the patient, Jennifer Colavechhio, to the front of the room to meet the paramedics and EMTs who saved her life that night. It was an emotional reunion. 

Honored for this rescue were:

  • RVAC EMT Matthew Dinson
  • RVAC Paramedic Sean Rossner

WRFD members: Timothy Deveny

  • Brendan Donnelly
  • Mark Donnelly
  • Nawab Qaderi
  • Alessandro Rosini
  • Cameron Rothwell
  • Ken Rothwell
  • Doreen Tiernan
  • Thomas Whelan

Riverhead Police Department:

  • Police Officer Pete Anderson
  • Police Officer Dan Clark
Emergency medical services personnel who saved the life of a 52-year-old Wading River woman in June with the patient, Jennifer Colavechhio, center (black dress) at the Aug, 10 awards ceremony. Photo: Frank Wainright/courtesy Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Moments before Rossner and Dinson responded to Wading River Fire Department’s request for mutual aid for the June 19 cardiac arrest,  they were called to rescue a man who had been struck by a vehicle on Sound Avenue. On their way to the scene, they were told that the man had gone into cardiac arrest. Rossner got into the back of the ambulance to prepare for the situation they were going into. 

“Due to Matthew [Dinson]’s skillful driving, I was able to prepare all of our equipment,” Rossner said.

Once the crew arrived on scene, they worked with Riverhead Police and the Jamesport Fire Department to get the patient into the ambulance and off-scene. They were on the way to the hospital in four minutes, a time “much faster than considered the industry standard,” Rossner said. Thanks to the care  provided, the patient’s heart began to beat on its own by the time the he arrived at PBMC.

Honored for their actions in this rescue were:

RVAC members: 

  • Matthew Dinson
  • Sean Rossner

Riverhead Police Department members:

  • Police Officer John Morris
  • Police Officer  Tim Murphy
  • Police Officer Matt Staker
  • Police Officer Chris Tam
  • Police Officer Andrew Waski
  • Police Officer Mark Weiss

Jamesport Fire Department members: 

  • Daniel Doroski
  • Raymond Ellis
  • Edward Ferger
  • Harold “Duffy” Griffiths III
  • William Leonardi
  • Jason Pedota
Emergency services personnel honored for saving the life of a pedestrian struck by a vehicle on Sound Avenue June 19. Photo: Frank Wainright/courtesy Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

On June 22, RVAC Chief James Alfano was in the Walmart parking lot when a call came in about an unconscious man across the street at Tanger’s Cafe Victoria. 

“In moments of crisis, every second counts. And on this particular day, the proximity of destiny was at play at 12:57 p.m.,” he said.  Being so close by, Alfano was able to arrive on scene in under two minutes. He found the man was not breathing and without a pulse. 

“It’s a scene nobody wants to witness, but exactly what we train for,” Alfano said. 

Riverhead Police Officer Blaze Yeager arrived at roughly the same time as Alfano. Together, they performed CPR and gave three shocks with an AED before the ambulance arrived. As soon as the ambulance got there, the crew got right to work, he said. 

“It’s not just about the skilled hands that performed CPR that day,” Alfano said. “It’s about the seamless collaboration of individuals who, even under immense pressure, work together flawlessly.” 

Honored for this rescue were:

RVAC members:

  • Rachel Accurso
  • James Alfano
  • James Baglivi
  • Francisco Martinez
  • Erin Perrier
  • Riverhead Police Officer James Luppens
  • Riverhead Police Officer Brandon Williams

Riverhead Police Officer Blaze Yeager

Northwell Health EMS Paramedic Scott Tucci

Emergency services personnel honored for saving the life of a man in cardiac arrest at Tanger Outlets June 22. Photo: Frank Wainright/courtesy Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Denise Civiletti contributed to this story.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.