Meet the EMTs: A Ride Along with the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad

Published: September 10, 2023 at 11:41 AM    Last Updated: September 10, 2023 at 11:41 AM

WESTFIELD, NJ — Across the busy traffic circle on South Avenue West, Giovanna Machado and Habiba Ahmed quietly arrived one morning in August for their early-bird shift with the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Unlike the morning commuters in their cars, their demeanor was calm as they prepared for another unpredictable day as volunteer emergency medical technicians.

This career path wasn’t something Machado, 22, initially planned for. In college, she majored in architecture.

“I had a friend that used to volunteer here. She used to post all these crazy stories about her calls. I was like, ‘That’s kind of interesting,” Machado said. “My parents said, ‘maybe you should switch and try something else.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to do it.’”

Two years later, Machado became the station’s Equipment Lieutenant and now works paid positions at three other EMS squads, as well.

Her arrival influenced Ahmed, 20, to volunteer. Before they responded to emergency calls, the pair attended college classes together.

“I’ve always been interested in the medical field … Giovanna’s the one who got me to start here,” Ahmed said. “We were in the same class, and she told me I should join. It’s a long story, but it ended up with me joining the squad.”

Now, the two-woman crew are volunteering to make a difference in the real-world.

Watch our video from the ride-along below.

Funded by Donations

Since 1951, Westfield’s Volunteer Rescue Squad has been committed to providing emergency medical service to residents for free.

For 70 years, hundreds of volunteers have sacrificed their time to serve in Westfield’s squad. Unlike the town’s fire and police department, the agency is not funded by local taxes, nor is it funded by government grants or state programs.

The town budget does not provide funding for equipment, vehicles, supplies, uniforms or overhead costs. Instead, the 24-hour service is only supported by tax-deductible donations from Westfield residents.

The agency is not a municipal service, nor is it operated or controlled by the town. As a result, the agency has finite resources that aren’t replaceable or fixable without donations.

The staff of 63 is completely volunteer and consists of people from many different backgrounds, said Deputy Chief Jessica Romero.

“Most of our members are from Westfield, especially most of our younger members,” Romero said. “However, we have members from all surrounding towns including Elizabeth, Clark, Cranford, Rahway, Plainfield, Scotch Plains, Roselle Park, Woodbridge and Edison.”

This adds to the complexity as a volunteer’s availability is subject to change throughout the year.

However, it is with a steady rotation of dedicated crew members like Machado, Ahmed and Romero that the agency continues to provide free service throughout Westfield.

A six-year veteran at Westfield’s EMS, Romero, 25, said that volunteering is rewarding on a personal level.

“Being a volunteer here is very fulfilling,” Romero said. “Being able to give back to the town and respond to some people’s most vulnerable moments.”

On the Road

“As we are fully volunteer, we always take new members who have no experience,” Romero said. “I love being able to train everybody.”

For new volunteers, also referred to as “probies,” the responsibility of driving the ambulance can be nerve-racking. During emergencies, the challenge of driving safely and at a faster pace can also be intimidating, Romero said.

“All of our members undergo training prior to driving,” Romero said. “Only members 18+ are allowed to drive the ambulance, and all members in training must complete a ‘CEVO’ class and safe driving courses, which are tailored to ambulance driving.”

In addition, trainees are paired with a senior EMT to complete regular tasks and errands while driving the ambulance. The senior EMT then decides when the trainee is ready to practice with lights and sirens.

“All members must take a driving test before they are promoted to senior members and are allowed to drive with a patient,” Romero said.

In response to a call that August morning, Machado took the driver’s seat while Ahmed remained in the back.

Despite emergencies, drivers are not permitted to speed excessively, disobey traffic laws or drive recklessly.

“Sometimes people think that because you drive an ambulance, you can drive super fast and do crazy things,” Machado said. “It’s basically a normal car, you still have to follow the speed limit … you don’t want to have new patients on the way to a call.”

With sirens blaring, Machado sliced through traffic en route to her destination.

After retrieving the patient, the crew headed from Westfield to Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth. Machado’s driving earned the praise of the patient, who complimented her road skills once they arrived.

The praise reflects the training that drivers receive to ensure the safety of everyone, Romero said.

“Driving is a huge responsibility, and something we prioritize to train so all members feel comfortable once they are promoted and assume the position of a driver,” Romero said.

Anything Can Happen

At the start of every shift, Machado said, Westfield Police are notified that EMTs are available and on standby. The phone call is one part of a required checklist that every crew follows.

“We do a rig check. We go out to the trucks and check if everything’s good and ready to go for the day,” Machado said. “We check the gas, the oxygen, the expiration dates on everything and we replace whatever we need.”

Inside the storage room and ambulance, Ahmed pointed out the different medical equipment that’s available to use. The sections included everything from regular bandages to Narcan, a drug used to reverse overdoses.  

Although it’s typical to respond to small accidents during a day’s work, Ahmed and Machado are prepared for the worst, as crews never know exactly what they will find when they arrive on a call.

“My first cardiac arrest call came in as a fall. When we got there and did our assessment, this guy had no pulse. So it went from a fall to cardiac arrest, which is completely different and a lot more complicated,” Machado said.

Besides the daily equipment checks, there isn’t a “day-to-day” routine for EMTs in the field, Ahmed said. Each experience involves different situations and people.

“Patients sometimes will spit on you; they will start cursing you out … You have to be patient and be willing to work under pressure,” Ahmed said. “You can’t be freaking out.”

Despite some hardships, Machado and Ahmed said the sacrifice is always worth it. For them, it’s not about receiving recognition. Instead, it’s about providing a life-saving service for the town’s residents.

“That’s why I like to come here in my free time. I picked up more shifts to come here and try to help out,” Ahmed said. “People, when you tell them that, they say ‘why are you doing this to yourself?’ But it’s really fun and I enjoy it.”  

For the volunteer agency, life is priceless, and so is the lack of a bill when residents receive their free services.   

“I love telling people we don’t bill. We do this because we want to be here,” Machado said.

Click these links for more information on volunteering, donations, classes and medical equipment loans.