A challenge beyond the textbooks

SUNY Cortland EMS service draws dedicated volunteers


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer     
Bill Wilczak, crew chief of the SUNY Cortland EMS, gives directions to Adrienne Blenkinsopp and Lauren Sikora, both juniors at SUNY Cortland.

Staff Reporter

For the students of the SUNY Cortland EMS, work is often a waiting game.
While many students are partying their weekend nights away, these volunteers wait at EMS headquarters in Van Hoesen Hall, passing time by watching TV, playing cards and doing homework.
Like any emergency responder organization, it’s not uncommon to spend a whole night without a call, but when they’re needed these students are trained for any number of things that might come their way.
“It’s always a challenge. It’s never textbook,” said Chief William Wilczak. “We had one kid that had gone out and decided to walk the ‘balance beam’ on a curb and he fell and his tooth went into his buddy’s head.”
Founded in 1976 as a student club on campus, the 46-person EMS group owns two ambulances and runs on a budget provided by the school. This year’s budget is $36,300.
“To join there is absolutely no training necessary,” said Wilczak, a 21-year-old senior and four-year member of the squad. “We do our own CPR classes, we send our members to first aide classes through the American Red Cross and we bring in our insurance company to do a driving course with our rigs. If you want to go higher than driver you can take an EMT (emergency medical technician) class, and we’ll pay for it.”
The squad handles a slew of emergency calls. Although many on the weekends deal with students returning to the dorms after they’ve had too much to drink, Wilczak said his crew probably sees most of its action from sports injuries, especially club rugby matches.
“So far for the month we’ve only had eight alcohol-related calls. We had 53 for August through September,” he said. “We see sports injuries where someone is playing basketball and they roll an ankle. We’ve also had some medical calls for faculty members or students where they’re not eating and passing out in class.”
Wilczak said he joined because as a child he always wanted to be an ambulance driver — now that simple title is almost an insult.
“I joined campus rescue the third day I was on campus my freshman year,” said the health science major who is in the process of switching to health education. “Around the time of Oklahoma City (federal building bombing), I was watching 20/20 or something, and they had an interview with a paramedic that had to amputate a child’s leg with a saw. I was like, ‘Maybe I can’t do it.’ When I got here and saw what they were doing I was like, let’s try it again. I’ve worked my way up the ladder ever since.”
Christopher Fraser, 19, of Long Island, is a transfer student from Rhode Island University. Fraser said he worked for the student EMS squad at his old school where he became a certified EMT in the state of Rhode Island. Now he is working on becoming certified in New York.
“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer,” he said. “What got me into it was a lot of police officers are EMTs. I just have to get familiar with New York state’s protocol because it’s a little bit different than Rhode Island’s.”
Wilczak is a certified EMT in New York state and said he took the classes while carrying a full load at SUNY Cortland.
“We are the same classification as any ambulance’s emergency medical technician basic,” he said. “I took my EMT class at TC3. It was a night class so I was there every Monday and Wednesday night from 6 to 10 and some days all day on Saturday. That took me from August until March. I’ve never been so overwhelmed with work.”
Adrienne Blenkinsopp, 20, originally from Queens, is a junior who just joined the squad this year. So far she has worked her way up to a radio operator, now spending her time at the station manning the radio while the emergency responders go out on calls.
Although she misses out on the action in her current position, Blenkinsopp is looking forward to getting her EMT certification.
“I’ve done a few calls,” she said. “I’m a radio operator now. I enjoy it. We’re a cohesive group.”
“One dislocated shoulder, an asthma attack, another girl had problems with her lower back,” she added when asked about some of the situations she has seen so far. “I’ve been working about once a week.”
Although last weekend the squad had no calls to speak of, other than the occasional outing to Mark’s Pizzeria on Main Street for a slice and some garlic bread, Wilczak said his crew volunteers because they care about other students and they want to help.
“We do it because we care,” he said.



Homer housing project approved

Village board approves site plan, subdivision application

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Construction will resume on a 24-unit senior apartment building at the corner of Orson and Cortland streets any day now.
At Monday night’s village Planning Board meeting, the board voted 4-0 to approve the site plan and the subdivision application for the project after determining the project would have no significant impact on the environment.
Following the meeting, opponents of the project showed their sadness, anger and disappointment.
Maribeth McEwan, one of four Homer village residents who in June had won a lawsuit against the village for not fully complying with State Environmental Quality Review regulations in approving the project, rushed out of the Town Hall crying.
The Planning Board first approved the project in January, but that approval was voided after a state Supreme Court ruled the Planning Board had incorrectly completed paperwork for the SEQR process.
East Syracuse-based Two Plus Four Construction, the project’s developer, had to stop work on the site after the ruling.
After Monday’s meeting, Janet Steck, a village resident, said she was too angry with the board’s acceptance of the project to comment on the decision.
Victor Siegle, another Homer village resident who was part of the lawsuit, said he and others were not intending to sue the Planning Board a second time.
Village resident Harry Bellardini said the board neglected residents’ concerns about the significant impact the project would have on the surrounding environment.
“They didn’t listen,” he said.
Margo Yeager, chairwoman of the Planning Board, said Two Plus Four “bent over backward” to comply with environmental law.
It constructed a storm retention pond, for example, that will cater to the site’s swampy location.
“That will lessen the mosquito population,” she said.
Susan Kimmel, president of Two Plus Four Construction, said the company’s plans to comply with environmental law have not changed since the project was first proposed.
The company has always planned on installing a pump to keep water moving continuously and prevent stagnant water, she said.
Barb Lamphere, vice president of Two Plus Four, said construction should resume within the next few weeks.
Kimmel said before the lawsuit decision Two Plus Four intended to finish the project by April. Now it probably won’t finish the project until July or August, she said.
Tenants will move into their apartments within 30 days after construction is completed, she said.
Gary Thomas, executive director of the Cortland Housing Assistance Council, the project’s sponsor, said so far 50 senior citizens inquired about 24 spots in the building.
Two Plus Four’s Kimmel said adults over the age of 62 who earn up to 60 percent of the county’s median income — or $21,180 for one person and $24,180 for two people — are eligible to live in the building under the federal Fair Housing Act.
Disabled people of any age are also eligible for apartments.




Otter Creek Place residents complain of vandalism

Homeowners point the finger at SUNY Cortland students.

Staff Reporter

Standing on the enclosed front porch of her Otter Creek Place home, JoAnn Fox rattles off a list of her belongings that have been vandalized over the past two years.
Many of these items have been grabbed out of Fox’s enclosed front porch late at night, with a streetlight shining down directly across the street.
“I’ve had the top of my car scratched up — right in my driveway,” Fox said Monday afternoon from her front yard.
Fox and other Otter Creek Place residents believe SUNY Cortland students have been responsible for a surge in vandalism, litter and speeding on their tiny street that connects Broadway and Groton Avenue.
“This is the main thoroughfare from downtown to the college,” Fox said.
The students are louder and more destructive than in the past, she said.
Other residents have had flags stolen and flowers ripped up, fences knocked down and decorations stolen.
Several weeks ago, Rochelle Ingraham had her flag and flagpole taken from her Otter Creek Place home in the late-night hours, and was awoken by the police at 3 a.m. when they found the group that had taken it on Groton Avenue.
“It’s a constant thing. You hear them coming and going, whooping and hollering,” Ingraham said.
“The swearing and screaming …” Fox said as she shook her head.
“Oh, the language is terrible. But they’re coming back from a good time,” Ingraham said, cutting the students some slack. “It’s the route from downtown up to the dorms.”
Fox is less sympathetic.
“It’s unconscionable. They have no respect,” she said. “No respect whatsoever.”
City police have received four complaints from the area since the college came back in session, said Lt. John Gesin, but some of those are still under investigation, and there aren’t necessarily indications that SUNY Cortland students were involved.
The interim vice president of student affairs at the college, Richard Peagler, said perhaps the college needs to hold a town hall-type meeting, as it has done in the past.
“We can work with the community and the college to make sure that the students aren’t causing any problems for the community,” Peagler said this morning. “Community members have a right to their privacy, and living in an environment where the students aren’t creating problems for them.”
A letter that is usually sent out in the spring, to remind students of their responsibilities while the weather gets nicer, might have to be sent out in the fall if the weather stays nice, Peagler said.
The college also has a shuttle and “safe-rides” to help inebriated students get back on campus safely, he said.
“I’m sure at different times, there may be an inordinate amount of noise coming through there,” Peagler said of Otter Creek Place.




Missouri tree growers expand into Dryden

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — With the acquisition of two loans, RPM of Ithaca is planting its roots here.
The loans totaling $4.5 million from Chemung Canal Trust Co. are enabling Forest Keeling, a Missouri-based company, to expand its operation and set up RPM Ecosystems.
“This is a new expansion of RPM Ecosystems LLC,” said Marvin Marshall, one of the company owners.
The company produces mature trees three times faster than their normal growth rate, without genetic modification, and sells them for reforestation purposes, Marshall said.
RPM Ecosystems will break ground Sunday on a new building, Marshall said, and he expects the building process to be completed by “the middle of next summer.”
The loans would assist the company in creating new jobs, finance construction of 40 greenhouses, educational and developmental facilities, offices, equipment storage facilities and three onsite single-family residences, where some employees will live.
The buildings will sit on 158 acres.  Marshall said the company would have “about 45 new jobs in the facility.”
Marshall said the company would make its home at 2150 Dryden Road.
Aside from the loans, the company will rely on equity and other sources to finance the $8 million to $10 million project.
The company’s name, RPM, is derived from the root production method. Marshall said the root production method is an all-natural process, which makes massive root systems by eliminating the taproot. The taproot is the main root of the plant that eventually branches off into smaller roots.
“We skip the juvenile years (of the tree),” Marshall said. “And move right to the teenage years.”
Normally an oak tree would take 60 years to be fully grown, but with the root production method it would take 20, Marshall said.
“These trees have a 95 percent survival rate,” he said. “We can … grow an acorn to a 5 foot tree in 210 days.”
Marshall said it would take 10 years for a normal tree to grow 5 feet.
The loan is the “responsibility” of RPM Ecosystems Ithaca, Marshall said. One of the loans has a 20-year mortgage and Marshall said he was not sure of the mortgage on the other loan, but it is short term.
Chemung Canal Trust said it could not comment on the loan because of bank privacy policy.
Timothy Jones, special projects coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, said the government guarantees 80 percent of the loan.
“In case something happens the government guarantees 80 percent of the loans (to the lender),” said Jones. “It reduces the risk of the lender.”
According to the USDA Rural Development, Rural Development’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program provides the “guarantee” on the loan.