| Sarah Heinonen
LONGMEADOW/SPRINGFIELD – At 6 a.m., Ian Ireland, his girlfriend Brianna Fox and their fellow EMTs left their hotel and were bused to Fort Totten, a military installation located in Queens, NY, to board their ambulances. By 9 a.m. the medical professionals were on the road, answering 911 calls in the different boroughs of New York City nonstop for the next 12 hours. By the time they were finished with their day, it was dark again.
This is how Ireland and Fox spent two weeks from March 27 through April 11, in the lead up to the city’s peak in COVID-19 cases.
“It was an eye-opening experience. I knew New York was bad, but seeing it in person, it was like a movie, like a war movie,” Ireland said.
Ireland, a Longmeadow native, has worked as an EMT with American Medical Response (AMR) in Springfield for three years. This was the first time he had traveled outside of the area in a professional capacity.
“AMR has a [Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] contract and anytime a natural disaster occurs in the United States, AMR sends EMTs to help,” Ireland said.
The company sent 12 EMTs with six ambulances to assist with the pandemic in New York City. New York has been the hardest hit state in the country for COVID-19, with over 350,000 cases as of press time - more than double that of the next worst impacted state, New Jersey, and more than four times the number of cases in Massachusetts.
“Before I went to New York I thought Massachusetts had it really bad,” Ireland said. He told Reminder Publishing about the conditions in Queens and the Bronx, the two boroughs in which he worked.
“New York [City] was in disaster mode,” Ireland said. Their emergency call volume doubled during the pandemic, he said. In hospitals, “One little space, meant for one patient, would have three people in there, six inches apart, beds side by side.”
Ireland said that the EMTs had been sent with gowns, gloves, face shields and masks to protect themselves.
“AMR and FEMA took care of us,” he said.
After two weeks, Ireland, Fox and the other EMTs returned home and AMR sent out replacements to continue the fight.
“Thank God that he’s back,” Ireland's father, Patrick Ireland, expressing relief that his son had returned from the assignment healthy.
Fox begins nursing school at UMass Amherst in August and on June 1, Ireland begins training to become a physician assistant at Bay Path University. He’ll be specializing in emergency medicine.
“All EMTs get into the profession with the desire to help their fellow man [or] woman,” Ireland said of why he signed up to work in New York. “NYC is in a time of distress and needs help. Bri and I are both certified and qualified EMTs so we wanted to do our part and do what we can to fight [and] end this pandemic.”