NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Volunteer ambulance squads aren’t just found in the suburbs. They exist in New York City as well.
“When I was moving back to New York from California, I very much wanted to volunteer as an EMT again. I assumed that wouldn’t be possible,” said Greg Levow.
But he joined the Central Park Medical Unit, and is now the vice president.
“We’re a hundred percent volunteer. We’re a 501(c)(3) non-profit. We’re entirely funded by donations from the public, foundations, grant writing, and we provide one of the fastest response times in New York state – under three minutes,” he told WCBS 880 reporter Sean Adams.
It’s a far cry from the much longer response times in the gritty 1970s, when the unit was founded.
They started out on bicycles. Today, they have 150 volunteers from all walks of life and three ambulances, plus bicycle teams and an all-terrain vehicle.
EMT Meagan Flynn says many people don’t even know they exist.
“A lot of times don’t know. They think we’re cops sometimes. They think we’re EMS. They don’t know who we are,” she said. “Most people say ‘What are you doing?’ like ‘Why are you in the park?’ and we have to explain to them the reason for starting it was because of the response time in the park was slow.”
Volunteer Eugene Thomas is, by day, the manager of an apartment building.
“Volunteering and giving back in New York City, for me, is a no brainer,” he said.
“The perfect boot camp for a career in trauma medicine,” said Gabriel Tischian, a pre-med student at Columbia University. “It’s hands-on.”
Attorney Steve Peluso says they see it all.
“A lot of bicycle runners, collisions, people fall off of rock faces,” he said. “It’s turned out to be a very rewarding experience.”
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The FDNY praises the Central Park Medical Unit, calling it a valuable partner.
“Most recently, Hurricane Sandy, we had all of our units deployed for about four days straight in the Rockaways, evacuating NYU and Bellevue,” Levow said.
The group is trying to raise its profile and some much needed money. One decade-old ambulance is on its last legs.
Nevertheless, these giving volunteers keep on responding in and around Central Park and they don’t bill patients – not one penny.
“We’re not looking for any type of compensation. The reward is helping them out,” said Levow. “And there’s a great feeling you get by being able to help somebody and their family.”
“When somebody calls 911, they are having the worst moment of their life and we’re the people that step in and make that at least a little bit better,” he added.