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First-Responder Profiles: Paramedic Christine Isca
06:00PM / Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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Christine Isca, front, with colleagues at the COVID-19 test site.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The COVID-19 pandemic has perhaps brought the role of first-responders more to the forefront lately, but these men and women have regularly been serving their communities in numerous emergency situations.
This is a series profiling some of our local first-responders in partnership with Lee Bank to highlight the work they do every day — not just during a pandemic. 
Paramedic Christine Isca has been working in emergency medical services for two decades and is currently the training supervisor and instructor coordinator for County Ambulance Service. She tells us about the challenges and rewards she has experienced during her 21-year career.
Q: What influenced you to become an emergency medical technician?
A: EMS was never on my radar for a career. I was a single mom while working in the emergency room in the mid-90s as one of the first nursing assistants hired in that department. While there, I felt an affinity with the people working on the ambulances. I had no idea about what EMS was. But my personality matched with the job. One of the paramedics suggested I take the class, which was offered at the hospital at that time. It was just that power of suggestion that this career might be a good fit for me that was the push I needed. I fell in love with the job right from the beginning. We have a unique perspective going into people's home when they are ill or injured. To be trusted in that manner is an honor.
Q: What is the best part of your job? What is the most challenging?
A: The best part of my day is making a smooth and comforting transition from scene to hospital. Sometimes it involves a difficult extrication that with good communication and team work went well, sometimes it's using medication to comfort and ease a patient's symptoms, sometimes it's comforting patient's and tending to their emotional needs. One of the appeals of the job is that no two days are the same and adapting with a team in the moment is what makes me love the job.
What is the most challenging? Seeing our community fall into patterns of abuse. We are so tired. Tired of the upward trend of overdoses, we wish we could take away the pain. Tired of seeing our community (EMS and general) hurting and taking their own lives. Tired of being too late to help. But still, with courage and compassion, will answer the call. This takes a toll on our own mental states and sometimes we find it hard to take care of ourselves.
Q: What has changed the most about your job since the onset of COVID-19? Have you seen a significant increase in the number of calls for your services?
A: My service quickly adapted right at the onset of the pandemic. We were fortunate to have a cache of PPE (personal protective equipment) that helped us start policies and procedures to keep our people and the general public safe. While at the height of the pandemic EMS calls were down, but each call was exponentially more difficult and stressful by the amount of PPE needed, not to mention the constantly changing information about the virus that made policies and procedures change almost daily. Add to that the physical demand wearing full PPE on some calls and emotional drain worrying about contracting the virus or spreading it to our patients, families or co-workers.
Our leadership early on was also able to train and mobilize teams of people to perform mobile COVID testing to those vulnerable populations and our CRITT (COVID response intervention testing team) to date has administered over 3,000 tests through partnerships with other ambulance services and Berkshire Medical Center. While you will see me on the ambulance regularly, my time is spent mostly on COVID testing and company training. I think that it is in this time that we are starting to see our call volume increase again.
Q: What would you like the general public to know about EMTs and their job responsibilities?

A: First and foremost, we care about you! Please be patient with us. Every question we ask and every action we take is in service of our patients to get them the best care in that moment. There is often times a disconnect between what the public expects and what we actually do. EMS has changed considerably since I started.

The tools we bring to your side are things like cardiac monitoring, IV therapy and medication administration as well as alerting the physicians in the Emergency Department about time sensitive emergencies like heart attacks, traumas, sepsis and strokes which significantly and positively impacts patient outcomes. We have moved from picking up patients and quickly getting them to the hospital and instead are starting many treatment modalities on the scene.

Q: Who or what has influenced you the most since becoming an EMT?

A: The largest volunteer system in the United States is in Virginia Beach. In the middle of my career, I found myself volunteering as a means to be a part of their EMS system. I was eventually hired on. Working with many volunteers, from all different backgrounds, who choose every day answer the call to help not only influenced but inspired me. It was truly a humbling experience working with these amazing people. There are many people along the journey who influenced me in my career, but they all have the same common thread. That is the willingness to help; and being part of a team that I see in each and every one of my brethren. It's what calls me to come to work every day.
Q: Any advice you would like to offer to our readers to help them stay safe?
A: Wash your hands! Take a class! (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Stop the Bleed, first aid). This past year I had the pleasure to teach a hands only CPR class at the Westside Community Outreach Post. That class one month later turned into one of my students performing bystander CPR on man who was revived with a collaborative effort that began with her actions! I had the absolute pleasure of meeting both of them a few months later. 
The full story is truly a kismet situation and was full circle moment for me. It's one thing to save a life, but to empower another person to do that same is the pinnacle of my career. If you see us out on a stand-by, come say hi! We often times have mannequins and training equipment to show off. We love to show off our stuff and teach everyone a thing or two about this amazing career. You never know when the power of suggestion will end up being the call to help!



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