When the borough of Brooklyn officially added Keith Anderson, Christopher Bullock, Arthur Lasane, Rusty Greene, Michael Ward and Ronalde Kittles to the roster of its bravest last week, the six men gladly accepted the praise–which included a citation, button and fitted baseball cap–but asked the Amsterdam News to look into getting them something more: training.
On the spur of the moment, the six men worked together to save the life of 9-year-old Tawaiian Holmes after a multi-car accident caused by a drunk driver left her nearly dead in the streets of Brownsville on Dec. 19.
“I am happy to see Tawaiian recovering,” said Ward. “But I wish I could have done something sooner. It took a while before the ambulance responded. I wish I was a doctor or we had anyone of us [with medical training], so that we could have been giving her some medical help right there and then.”
Ward was the first of the six men to respond to the accident. He got the other men together to lift the sedan, a move he says he was only able to do because of his prior first-aid training. Anderson, Bullock, Lasane, Greene and Kittles told the AmNews they too would like to learn the kind of first-aid skills that Ward exhibited. But that training–the kind given to volunteer responders–is slim in some communities, and in Brownsville, nearly zilch.
The Bedford-Stuyvesant Ambulance Corps (BSAC) is the closest volunteer ambulance corps around. According to its founder and director Captain James “Rocky” Robinson, 70, if any training is to be had in the area, BSAC would be the trainers to teach it because their catchment area includes Brownsville, and they have experience training people throughout the city.
“We’ve trained people all across the city and as far away as Haiti,” said Robinson. “We were first responders to Haiti after their earthquake. We were first responders after Hurricane Sandy. Over the course of our 25 years, we’ve trained thousands of EMTs. I would be surprised if that hero, that young man who said he received training, didn’t receive that training from us.”
Yet, that training, as wanted by Holmes’ six heroes and given by BSAC, is in a constant state of fiscal jeopardy. Last year, BSAC received $15,000 in discretionary New York City Council funding for two service programs: an emergency ambulance/medical service and an emergency medical training program, including EMT courses.
According to Robinson, those programs are in jeopardy because the funds, although dispersed on paper, have yet to be actually received by BSAC.
“I’m running a volunteer corps here with five ambulances, but can only run one because we can’t afford the insurance on the others. I get almost no support from the city because, I feel, they think we’re embarrassing them,” said Robinson. “We’ve trained more EMTs than the whole city of New York. We train people that other trainers won’t touch, and some of our EMTs go on to become doctors. Our EMTs have the best passing grades in the state, with a 90 percent passing record.”
Robinson says he’s been able to keep BSAC afloat with sporadic support from the Bedford-Stuyvesant community and monies from his own pocket, which include his pension and $50,000 in a reverse mortgage he has personally taken and is investing into BSAC.
“All it takes is four minutes for a person not breathing to experience brain damage,” says Robinson. “I want people not to depend on ambulances, but be able to offer competent medical support and then call an ambulance. I don’t want my people on rooftops begging some white knight for help when, with training, they can help themselves. That’s why I created this 25 years ago, after I retired.”
Yet, for BSAC to continue its effort to churn out self-reliant EMTs throughout Brooklyn and beyond, it needs an infusion of public funds in amounts much greater than is currently being offered. Yet, as Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz says, “It doesn’t work that way.”
When pressed to tell what resources may be available to offer community training to improve the skills of citizen first responders, Markowitz told the AmNews last week that his hands were tied.
“We only have money for capital. We can buy ambulances, but we don’t have funds to train anyone. Of course, I’d be open to such a thing, but the City Council has funds for programs. I just get capital.”