July 22, 2008
Lifesaving work defines Cincy EMS
Squad is named the Central New York EMS Agency of the Year
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cincinnatus Emergency Squad members from left, Richard Deiss, Capt. Donna Catlin and her husband, Dean, the squad’s first lieutenant, and the rest of the squad were recently named the Emergency Medical Services Agency of the Year by the Central New York EMS.
CINCINNATUS — When the Cincinnatus Emergency Squad arrived at the scene of a horrific lawn mower accident last September, there was very little time for stunned silence.
It was one of the worst accidents any of the squad’s members had seen, and it was one reason the squad was named the Emergency Medical Services Agency of the Year by the Central New York EMS at a dinner ceremony at the Arrowhead Lodge in Brewerton July 15.
A 60-year-old Cincinnatus man had been using a brush hog, a heavy-duty mower with a wide mowing deck, on the field by his home Sept. 23 when it hit a hidden stump and threw him. The man, who Cincinnatus officials would not identify because of federal health privacy laws, had been pulled under the machine and dragged about 100 feet.
“He had massive injuries to his lower extremities, including open fractures,” said Cincinnatus EMS Capt. Donna Catlin, who was on the scene with her husband, Dean, the squad’s first lieutenant.
“His airway was compromised from injuries to his chest, and he had almost lost his entire blood supply,” she said.
The man’s wife had called for emergency assistance when she found him, but by that point he had already been stuck, injured and bleeding heavily for at least a half hour, Donna Catlin said.
The Catlins said they moved out from the station quickly after hearing the EMS call.
“We were out of here in less than a minute,” Dean Catlin said.
The Catlins joined 2nd Lt. Charlie Eaton, EMT Shawn Scoville, ambulance driver Harold Walker, Tom Terry (a driver with the Cincinnatus Fire Department), driver Lloyd Peck and current EMS Chief Bob Burke at the scene.
Cincinnatus Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Peck (Lloyd’s son), Fire Capt. Joe Accardi, and EMT students Melissa Rice and Sherry Byron also responded.
“None of us had ever seen anything like it,” Donna Catlin said.
“I really don’t know how he survived,” Dean Catlin said.
Donna Catlin said the team, although shocked, quickly stabilized the man’s body on a backboard, inserted a tube in his airway and hooked up IV fluids.
MercyFlight’s helicopter soon arrived and landed in the field the man had been mowing — after Terry had helped direct the creation of a makeshift landing zone.
“Once he left our care, we knew he’d be OK,” Dean Catlin said.
It had not been an easy thing to see, the Catlins agreed.
“There were a few who were pretty shaken up by it,” Donna Catlin said. “We had a debriefing the next day. We decided that if we could talk with each other about it, we wouldn’t need to bring in outside help.”
While the man would eventually lose one of his legs above the knee and require several surgeries on the other, Donna Catlin said she has heard that he had been seen making the rounds at the golf course only a few weekends ago — making his way around on a prosthetic limb.
Dean Catlin said the call was proof of the transformation he and Donna Catlin have seen in the Cincinnatus EMS team since they joined in 2000.
“You should have seen this place when I got here,” he said. “There was nobody.”
There were, he said, about five volunteers at the station then. That year, Donna Catlin had bought a police scanner for him for Christmas, and he had noted with some dismay that often, when a call came across the radio for Cincinnatus, there would be no one to answer.
“I said, ‘There’s got to be something we can do,’” Dean Catlin said.
He joined as a volunteer driver a few days later, and his wife also joined. Dean Catlin is now a lieutenant and Donna Catlin is the squad’s captain, both with Level III EMT certification.
And the squad has blossomed as well, now boasting 34 volunteers who now keep a full on-call roster.
The team runs two ambulances, and covers about 60 square miles of rural territory in and around Cincinnatus.
They had been put to the test before, on May 19, when State Police Trooper Steven Bilodeau flipped his patrol car over a guardrail and down a steep embankment on Route 41 between Cincinnatus and Willet on his way to an emergency domestic call.
Several area high schools had held their proms that night, Dean Catlin said, so when the call came in, most of the EMTs and drivers figured they were heading to an accident involving a high school student.
Dean and Donna Catlin said they had just gotten home from running a Bingo night at the fire station when they heard the call.
“Our adrenaline was up already, thinking it was a kid,” Dean Catlin said. “None of us knew it was law enforcement until we saw the patrol car.”
Bilodeau had been trapped in his vehicle, severely injured, after plowing down a hill and coming to rest about 300 feet from the highway in a marshy area covered in dense brush.
Once Bilodeau had been pulled from his demolished vehicle, police officers and EMTs had to carry him up through the swamp and up the steep embankment to the road.
“The time from when we arrived on the scene to when we left with him in the rig was 13 minutes,” Dean Catlin said.
The Cortland Elks Lodge named Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Karl Altmann and Officer Kelly Ryan as Lawmen of the Year for their actions that night. After his recovery, Bilodeau presented the Cincinnatus Emergency Squad with a certificate of recognition from the State Police.
Both Catlins said they were gratified that Central New York EMS gave their squad the annual regional award.
“I was so excited,” Donna Catlin said. “This place has come a long way.”
The Central New York region of the New York State EMS presents its own set of awards in nine categories each year, and the names of the winning agencies and EMS workers are then submitted to the state level.
The winners of the state-level awards will be named at the “Vital Signs” EMS conference, held Oct. 3 to 5 in Buffalo.
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