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  • Writer's pictureDan FitzPatrick

Chariots of Life

March 2017

I intend to see “Hacksaw Ridge,” the Oscar-winning movie that tells the true story of Army medic Desmond T. Doss, who won the Medal of Honor at the Battle of Okinawa without firing a single shot. He was the first conscientious objector in US history to win the nation’s highest military decoration, which is awarded for “Conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” A book on his life is entitled “The Unlikeliest Hero.”

This past Friday I had the pleasure of lunching with a distinguished attorney whom I had worked with years ago. During our conversation, I learned that he had served towards the end of WWII in the volunteer American Field Service, driving ambulances in support of our British allies. Another wonderful example of courage, putting the well-being of others above personal safety.

Ambulances are part of our lives but rarely top of our minds. I have the honor of being a member of the Order of Malta, an organization founded almost 1,000 years ago to care for the medical needs of pilgrims of all faiths and races. The oldest medical mission in the world, its humanitarian activities now span the globe, and in many countries the Maltese Cross of the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps is as readily recognized as the Red Cross or the Green Crescent; in each case, a welcome sign to those in need of medical assistance.

Ambulances have come a long way -- from the Dodge WC54 ½ ton truck of WWII, through the Cadillac High Tops of the 1960s (basically just a souped-up station wagon with lights and siren) to the “emergency rooms on wheels” of today, fully equipped with the latest technology and staffed with highly trained paramedics and emergency medical technicians. Modern ambulances save lives by saving time; medics can evaluate and begin advanced life support on the way to the hospital, relaying critical information via computer to emergency room doctors so that the ER team is already prepared to continue treatment the moment the patient arrives. For many conditions – most especially cardiac cases – time-to-treatment is the critical factor determining success or failure. Sadly, too many patients are reluctant to call for an ambulance and insist on driving themselves to the hospital. By doing so, they risk narrowing the window of opportunity for a successful outcome.

We in Greenwich, Connecticut are fortunate to have a superb local ambulance service, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Boasting an average response time of less than 5 minutes and a cardiac arrest save rate double that of the national standard, Greenwich Emergency Medical Service, Inc. (GEMS) is an independent, not-for-profit organization serving the entire Greenwich community on a 24/7 basis from four separate locations in town. While a portion of GEMS’ operating budget is provided pursuant to a contract with the Town of Greenwich, GEMS’ capital needs (ambulances, equipment, etc.) are paid for by private funds raised directly from the community. GEMS’ fundraising has reduced the cost of advanced life support ambulance service to the town by an estimated $8 million to date. The continuing generosity of local donors has allowed GEMS to provide exceptional service at very reasonable cost. We can all take pride in that result.

Let’s take a moment to thank the men and women who throughout the years have dedicated themselves to serving the healing arts. May they always be on call for us.


The author is a member of the Board of Directors of GEMS and the son-in-law of one of its founders. His family has had some “client experiences” with GEMS services, for which they are most grateful.

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