Muddy Angels Make A Special Stop In Newtown

Dana Sellner of Minnesota stood on the curb near Edmond Town Hall Wednesday afternoon, repeating: “The turn is here” to the many bicyclists coming off Main Street following their trip from Waterbury.

Remarking on the ride that morning she said, “They have climbed a lot of hills in the past couple of days.” Wednesday afternoon saw more than 80 of the roughly 140 registrants taking part in all or some of the Muddy Angels National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (NEMSMBR) from Maine to Pennsylvania (see MuddyAngels.com for more information).

The long-distance cycling event honors EMTs and paramedics who have become sick or injured while performing their duties, and memorialize those who have died in the line of duty. The 2013 East Coast ride began in Rockland, Maine, on May 18, and plans to continue to Philadelphia, arriving on May 25. The ride coincides with EMS Week.

An emergency medical service member in her home state, Ms Sellner worked this week to direct the cyclists traveling through Newtown, stopping for a brief ceremony at the Newtown Ambulance Corps garage at 77 Main Street, where they arrived en masse minutes after gathering at the town hall. They later continued to Katonah, N.Y.

With thumbs up and in many cases a smile, riders soon pulled in at the ambulance garage to applause and cheers form the many officials, ambulance corps members, police, and others waiting to welcome the group.

Snapping shots with his iPhone was ride participant Dave Wheaton, a 34-year EMS veteran from Florida — the only one from his state riding this year, he said. He met the pack in Maine to pedal for his fourth year. “It’s been a great ride,” he said.

Jennifer Lyon of Connecticut, the director, route coordinator, and public information officer for this year’s national bike ride, worked her way through the cyclists stopping for a drink and lunch at the garage. Tugging at tags worn around her neck carrying the names of fallen members, she said the ride from Maine so far has “been good.”

Rider Marlea Bengeson of Connecticut had traveled to Maine and plans to ride “the entire thing,” she said. An EMS paramedic, American Medical Response (AMR) member in New Haven, and emergency nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital, she was “feeling good,” with her trip so far.

Also riding since Maine and participating for the first time was physician Tim Pieh. He joined the Muddy Angels in part to honor his mentor Dr Frederick LaRochelle, a past member of the NEMSMBR Board of Directors, who died in 2012.

A first grade teacher from Maine, Donna Brown carried a Flat Stanley cutout on her knapsack. Laughing at the crayon image, she said, “He writes to students every night, and they write back.” Quickly becoming a comical figure, she said Flat Stanley fell off her pack and landed in the road, and was soon scolded because he did not have a helmet.

While the ride offered remembrance for 65 names read aloud Wednesday, the ceremony at the ambulance garage showed support for the EMS providers who were involved with the events of 12/14 in Sandy Hook. Riders recognized first responders from Sandy Hook, Newtown, and Danbury, honored their commitment and dedication, and at times stood to applaud speaker’s remarks and the Newtown first responders.

Speaking briefly was Jonathan Best, director of Preparedness & Response, Connecticut Department of Public Health. Regarding an emergency responder’s work, he said, “Some days can be mundane, then something happens and calls you to task; that happened here.” A paramedic since 1976, he has arrived on scenes “like the World Trade Center, like Newtown, like the train derailment, and I am proud to be part of the group that responds.”

He said, “Moments come when you respond to something that has never happened before … not a matter of if, a matter of when. You are all my heroes.”

Newtown Director of Emergency Communications Maureen Will spoke. “Strong arms” of a network of people “surrounded us on 12/14. Those arms from around the country surrounded us.” Providing an illustrated plaque to Ms Lyon, Ms Will said, “Our arms stretch wide to encompass you … we will never leave you.”

Director, Office of Emergency Medical Services, Connecticut Department of Public Health Raphael Barishansky also offered comments, along with others including ambulance corps member Mike Collins, and Jeremy Rodorigo, Northeast business development manager at American Medical Response. Mr Rodorigo was on scene 12/14.

Arriving with the AMR he said, “Newtown ambulance had the scene as under control as they could before we got there.” He said, “We asked what we could do and provided support; they did everything, a tremendous job on scene,” in what he called “the worst call ever.” They made sure the town “was cared for — exceptional service without wavering.” Newtown ambulance members “should be proud,” he said.

The riders spent the morning of May 22 at another ceremony at Library Park in Waterbury to recognize “all the Connecticut paramedics who we have lost this year as well as all the others throughout the United States.”

Following were a few additional words to recognize first responders from Sandy Hook, Newtown, and Danbury, and honor their commitment and dedication.

These and other stops along NEMSMBR Ride — the East Coast Ride through Newtown is one of several throughout the country — will honor 72 people, including six from Connecticut who have died within the past year.

After the ceremony, the cyclists headed south on Route 25, then pick up Route 302, heading into Bethel.

In addition to the East Coast Ride, Muddy Angels also holds a three-day event in Kentucky and Colorado. This year the group is also introducing a four-day West Coast Ride. Hundreds of EMS riders and volunteers as well as thousands of EMS professionals coordinate efforts for the rides.

The ride originated in 2002 with only nine riders, following 9/11. “It has grown significantly over the years,” Ms Lyon said. “We have ER physicians, EMTs, paramedics, vet techs … all ride, some for one day, many for the full week.”

The East Coast Ride currently has 140 participants registered, which includes riders and support personnel. Riders range from age 12 to 76, and are “truly all different abilities,” said Ms Lyon.

The NEMSMBR vision is to see recognition of EMS as a profession, a reduction in debilitating injuries and line of duty deaths in EMS, and a national EMS accountability system. According to the mission of Muddy Angels, it is the hope of the organization that its events will focus attention on the accomplishments of all EMS personnel, and educate the community at large about the need for improved safety standards, injury prevention, disability tracking, and death benefits for EMS personnel and their families.

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