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Palm Beach County Looks To Create Community Assistance Team

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  • Palm Beach County Looks To Create Community Assistance Team

    Fire-rescue program looks to expand

    Volunteers offer emergency help

    By Patty Pensa
    Staff Writer
    Posted April 10 2005

    Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue wants to expand a new program that sends volunteers to offer emotional support to people who have been involved in traumatic emergencies.

    The Community Assistance Team, begun in October, has about 40 volunteers who follow fire-rescue trucks to house fires, cardiac arrests, pediatric emergencies and fatalities. The volunteers work eight-hour shifts on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but program creator Capt. Richard Ellis said he wants enough volunteers to fill daily shifts.

    Achieving round-the-clock coverage would require 200 to 300 volunteers, Ellis said.

    Ellis, a paramedic for 17 years, said he always wished he could spend more time with family members who watched paramedics attend to loved ones in medical emergencies, such as cardiac arrest. Whether or not the loved one survives, the experience can be frightening and confusing for the family, said Ellis, who modeled the county's program after a similar program at the Phoenix Fire Department.

    "The grief and emotional support is immeasurable," he said.

    Tony Sorrell, 29, was one of Palm Beach County's first volunteers. He heard about the program from one of his Christian social ministry professors at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach.

    "I jumped on board," said Sorrell, who graduated in December. "Ever since 9-11, the stature of the fireman has increased. I have a lot of respect for them and what they do."

    Sorrell serves as mediator between family members and paramedics. Volunteers help family members understand what is happening. They offer to call other family members or clergy and can drive the person to the hospital.

    "The most important thing is, we're just there to let them know we are there for them," said Sorrell, a youth pastor at Lifesong Community Church in Jupiter. "If they need a tissue, we can go get it for them." Whereas paramedics usually spend 15 minutes with family members, volunteers have taken more than four hours to help them, Ellis said.

    The volunteers range in age from 20 to 65, said program coordinator Alicia Kula. Volunteers are not required to have backgrounds in counseling or social work, they just need to be empathetic, Kula said.

    Wearing burgundy fire-rescue polo shirts, the volunteers respond to calls throughout the county. There isn't much down time during an eight-hour shift, as volunteers also help match people with social service agencies, Kula said.

    Volunteers have placed seniors in nursing homes. They helped remove one victim of abuse into an assisted living facility. They also coordinated getting a shower chair for a woman who repeatedly called 911 because she would fall in the shower, Ellis said.

    "We have chronic health needs that are falling through the system," he said.

    Ellis said he wants Palm Beach County's program to add domestic violence and rape calls in the future.

    Until more volunteers come forward, Kula will continue to do social service calls and follow-up visits by herself on the days volunteers don't work.

    "Many days you walk away from this and feel drained emotionally," Sorrell said. "But somewhere deep inside you there is a little bit of joy that you were able to help."

    Patty Pensa can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6609.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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