SAVING LIVES, TRANSFORMING THEIR OWN

Karr Mullen, front, and Christopher Faherty at a reunion of former Little Silver EMS Cadets on Saturday. Below, Elizabeth Giblin. (Photos by Connor Soltas. Click to enlarge)

By CONNOR SOLTAS

That Little Silver’s EMS Cadets, the town’s squad of teenaged paramedics-in-training, can manage being on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an an unpaid lifesaving job might paint them as miracle-workers at a time when free time is scarce as ever and seemingly everyone needs extra cash.

And they are, no doubt, to those whose lives they save.

Yet if you ask the cadet program’s graduates, some of them 10 years older than when they began, there’s more to their story than the boilerplate tale of altruism.

Cadet camaraderie, they say, is what compelled them to stick with such a demanding schedule.

“There’s a special connection you make with others that you can’t understand until someone’s, like, dying in front of you,” said 2004 cadet Elizabeth Giblin, who this year became the EMS squad’s second-in-command, as first lieutenant.

The experience transformed the lives of many cadet corps alums, locals who joined in high school – some of whom continue to be involved with EMS work. To get the full scoop, redbankgreen dropped by the home of Kim Ambrose, of Little Silver’s EMS department, for a reunion of former cadets celebrating the corps’ tenth anniversary Saturday.

Ashley Jordan and Karr Mullen at the cadet reunion party. (Click to enlarge)

Giblin, of Oceanport, was a 16-year-old student at Red Bank Catholic High School when she entered Little Silver’s cadet program. Volunteering meant she could be needed at any hour of the day.

“I’d get home [from school] and turn on my pager, and if I was called, I’d go,” she said. “We’re First Aid. We’re always on-call.”

When calls did come, her boyfriend, also a cadet, drove them both to Little Silver’s fire station on Prospect Avenue. She would jump in the ambulance with sirens blaring, and a specially-trained driver would speed them off to whatever challenges awaited.

Administering medication was off-limits for cadets, but she would help however possible, for instance, with moving incapacitated patients onto stretchers.

There was little she couldn’t help with once on site: CPR, hemorrhage control, splinting and bandaging, to name a few cadet responsibilities. Their function was to assist the EMTs and other first responders.

Like Giblin, many enrolled for the on-the-job friendships.

“I joined because a friend in high school did it,” said Shrewsbury native Carolyn Bogdon.

For Karr Mullen, a 2009 cadet, the decision to join simply felt instinctive. “It was one of those things where you just wake up and say, ‘I’m gonna try this,’ and then just by happenstance it became something I loved,” he said.

Ashley Jordan, who joined in 2010, said her mother’s experience as an emergency medical technician drew her to volunteer.

When Christopher Faherty of Little Silver started, he was 14 years old, a student at Lincroft’s Christian Brothers Academy, a rower on the crew team and an honor student in the classroom. He also hated the idea of working in emergency medical services.

“I was completely against all the blood and gore,” he said, a sentiment that drove him to start with the fire department instead.

But as EMS began to grow on Faherty, he gradually devoted more time to it until, in his senior year at CBA, he quit the crew team to earn his EMT certification.

It took dozens of hours of training, a requirmement Faherty and his friends recall to be in the low-100s, but has since leapt to 240.

Stories abound of how the teenaged cadets squeezed their EMT classes into already-busy schedules.

Mullen’s grueling regimen included three three-hour evening classes each week in Neptune  for four months. After school and homework he completed by 5 p.m., his parents would drive him immediately to EMT class, he said. He returned home at 11 p.m. to repeat the grind the next morning.

Jordan, too, took classes on school nights. “It was hardest going through the training program,” she said.

For five weeks, Bogdon traveled to Holmdel four nights a week for classes that stretched 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Unlike Mullen and Jordan, though, she studied over the summer, opting to do the required homework while her peers soaked up sun and relaxed.

Necessary to all her cadet efforts, Bogdon added, was a receptive and understanding family.

“You have to have a really great family support system, because sometimes you have to get up from Thanksgiving dinner if a call comes in,” she said.

What kept them committed? A sense that the work they were doing, traveling in ambulances with patients at death’s edge, was, well, fun.

“You just come to love one another. It just is fun. We go out together,” said Bogdon as Faherty teased her: “And we pick on one another.”

“It’s definitely not something for everyone, but you’re going to hate it or you’re going to love it,” Mullen said.

Today, it’s hard to miss the ways Little Silver’s cadet corps has altered the lives of many of its graduates.

“I’ve been a part of this all my life. It’s pretty much all I know how to do,” Faherty said of EMS work. Now a Boston College senior, he is the three-year president of the campus’s nationally-recognized EMS program. Under his watch, the organization has doubled in size, he said.

“It’s incredible I haven’t burned out,” he said, laughing.

Bogdon looks to begin work this year at an organ procurement organization in the Washington, D.C. area. “It was because I got involved in emergency rooms – and that was because of the Little Silver cadets  – that I became a nurse,” she said.

Mullen, who graduated from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School this spring, will head to York College of Pennsylvania  to study nursing in the fall. He plans to become a flight nurse, an emergency care specialist who swoops in by helicopter in situations of extreme urgency, like highway car accidents.

That interest, he said, comes from a lifelong appetite for thrill. “I’ve always been into a sense of adventure,” he said of the career choice. “I was a boy scout and an eagle scout, too.”

For Giblin, the cadet corps even brought her love: while in the program she met Peter Giblin, whom she married this spring. She currently studies law at Seton Hall and is both Little Silver EMS’s first lieutenant and vice president.

Her husband, the son of former police Chief Shannon Giblin, has been a police officer since 2010.

Jordan, who is studying education at New York University, said she does not plan to go into emergency medical care.

Yes, the work is demanding, cadets admit, but only as demanding as one makes it. As Little Silver’s EMS department will happily remind prospective members, volunteering is possible for anyone interested, even around tight work hours.

“That’s the beauty of this,” Bogdon said. “It’s not a nine-to-five thing. It’s whenever you can help.”

Moreover, transitioning into EMS work happens gradually. No one is thrust into work they aren’t prepared for, Elizabeth Giblin said.

On the other hand, the call schedule has no regularity whatsoever: a medical emergency, of course, can happen anytime. There is no preparing for when the pager’s high-pitched warning will chirp the squad into motion. Some days, Faherty said, not a single call will come in. Other times, the town’s EMS will receive eight or ten calls in one day. Because following up on each call takes around an hour, the job can be tiresome and altogether draining.

On June 22 this year, three car accidents ran the squad ragged according to Faherty, with two of the accidents on Rumson Road and one on Little Silver’s Branch Avenue, all occurring within a very hectic one-hour span.

But whatever the schedule, it’s immensely rewarding work, volunteers say. And more because of the companionship than anything else.

“You’re gonna meet the best friends you’re going to have in your life,” Mullen said, asked if he’d suggest others join the cadet corps.

At that moment in the conversation, the EMTs’ belt-looped pagers begin chirping repeatedly. The party pauses. Is it an emergency call?

No, just routine pager testing, Elizabeth Giblin assures.

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The town is okay.

“But in any other case, yeah, we would have to get on that,” she says.