Friday, June 02, 2023

Teaneck has an incredible volunteer ambulance corps comprising a widely diverse group of people from all walks of life, and it also has a large representation from the Jewish community—including many Orthodox Jewish women. This column will be highlighting some of these women, who all selflessly dedicate their time and energy towards one goal—to help their community, and to make a difference.

Rivka Farrell joined Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC) almost three years ago, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Currently a senior in New Jersey Institute of Technology, she is a biology major planning to join Dr. Allison Didychuk’s lab in Yale University’s National Institutes of Health Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program program and is planning to attend medical school.

“My parents instilled in me the importance of giving what is most needed in life. For me, that meant volunteering,” Farrell explained. “I decided to join TVAC because there is no equivalent agency in Passaic that I could join. Upon returning from a year abroad, I enrolled in an EMT course. My decision was driven by my desire to help during the height of the pandemic. My father, who usually works as a nurse educator, was reassigned to a COVID-19 unit, as the number of documented COVID-19 cases grew exponentially. Seeing the need for help, I spoke with several friends and determined that enrolling in an EMT course and responding to the numerous 911 calls would be the most beneficial way for me to make a difference.”

Despite her busy schedule, Farrell has made sure to devote a part of her weekend to TVAC, and continues to ride a weekly shift. “As a member of my crew, I often assume the role of ‘first-in,’ leading the team in patient contact,” she said. “My goal is to provide a comforting presence amid the chaos of flashing lights and blaring sirens. On each call, I try to do something extra for the patient—getting a heated blanket, placing an extra pillow on the stretcher or simply being a good listener. I strive to combine my values as an Orthodox Jewish woman with my personal experiences to help those around me.”

Like many members, she finds ways to help out even above and beyond her weekly shift. “In addition to patient care, I recruit members, conduct interviews and organize training sessions,” Farrell said. “While teaching new skills, I emphasize our collaborative and teamwork approach. I strive to motivate, encourage, and support other members. The TVAC membership is remarkably diverse both culturally and religiously. When I first joined TVAC, I helped set up the kitchen so that all the members would feel comfortable eating there. People mention that they feel particularly comfortable and at home at TVAC given that we all strive to create an environment of trust and respect.”

Overall, Farrell feels that her experience at TVAC has enriched her life in many ways. “Looking back, my experience as an EMT has influenced more than just my emergency medical practical skills,” she said. “Learning to give a report to the trauma team strengthened my impromptu public speaking abilities. I am more relaxed speaking in a public setting and able to explain a concept clearly and systematically. The trust and responsibility placed on an EMT leads to higher levels of self-confidence and maturity. While training new members at my squad, I found that I truly enjoy teaching new concepts to others. I enjoy the challenge of developing alternative approaches to explaining an idea.”

In addition, the skills she fostered during her years at TVAC have helped her navigate her own personal challenges. “My mother has been battling terminal cancer,” Farrell said, “and being an EMT has equipped me with the ability to make quick decisions and be a better advocate for her care. In multiple instances, I have been able to calmly and clearly explain her medical history to healthcare professionals while riding in the ambulance.”

Farrell cited another example of her training coming in handy. “My training as an EMT has allowed me to help others in unexpected situations, such as when a friend fainted at a wedding,” she said. “I strongly believe that increasing the number of women EMTs will have a positive impact on healthcare, as we have the ability to save lives and provide care in diverse settings.”

Over the past three years, Farrell has taken hundreds of calls, but two calls in particular really stick out in her mind. (Not their real names.) On one call, she arrived on scene to find a patient in severe distress after injuring his hand. “While we were obtaining vital signs and bandaging his hand, Alex told us that he was homeless and while searching for food someone pulled a knife on him,” she said. “Initially, Alex refused care, until he heard that our ambulance is free of charge. Moments like these reaffirm why I specifically joined TVAC, a non-billing agency. TVAC has strengthened my ability to interact with diverse communities and provide life-saving care to everyone in need without discriminating based on income.”

In a second memorable call, Farrell described a scene where she arrived to find an elderly female with a possible humerus fracture collapsed on the ground, screaming in pain and clutching her arm. “When calling 911, people often feel panicked, worried, and confused. When addressing Maria, I quickly realized she only spoke Spanish. With gestures, motions and holding her hand, I was able to calm Maria and splint her arm. En route to the hospital, we continued to develop a rapport. Back at headquarters, my crew asked me where I had learned Spanish! Here, I gave Maria what she needed—humanity and a healing hand, even without a common language.

“Many people ask me how I find the time to volunteer as an EMT, but for me it is not just a commitment; it is a source of fulfillment,” Farrell concluded. “As an EMT, I realize that I am likely seeing someone potentially on their worst day, but I have the incredible unique opportunity to change that. I can honestly and confidently say that my experience as an EMT has been invaluable in shaping my perspectives within my personal life, advancing my technical skills, and honing my leadership abilities. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and the countless benefits it has brought to my life.”

Abby Cooper is a lieutenant of personnel at Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps and a reserve member at Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corps. She is also a resident of Bergenfield and a proud mother of five kids.

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