Lifelong Archbald resident Michelle Spataro began volunteering for Archbald Community Ambulance and Rescue Squad as a high schooler. In the three decades since, the University of Scranton grad has fulfilled a number of roles in the ambulance company when she’s not working as a treatment specialist at the state prison in Waymart. Recently, she was elected president of the ambulance service established in 1957, overseeing 30-plus members and making sure the company survives long into the future.
Here’s what Spataro had to say about her new role and the future of Archbald Community Ambulance.
Q: How did you get involved in the ambulance company?
A: My grandfather, Andrew Koltis, was a Lifetime member of the ambulance. When he died in 1988, I knew that I wanted to honor him in some sort of way and carry on his legacy of helping those in need. My grandfather loved helping people and took great pride in serving his community and country as he was a veteran of the US Navy. He was a great role model and I knew that he would be proud that his first granddaughter followed in his footsteps. I had to wait until I was 18 years old to join the ambulance. During my past 30 years of service, I have been the recipient of the Captain’s Award and several Top Responder Awards.
I currently hold certifications as an emergency medical technician and basic and advanced motor vehicle rescue technician. I am an instructor for the American College of Surgeons Committee on trauma bleeding control, also known as the Stop the Bleed Program. I am also crisis intervention trained to help assist those experiencing a mental health crisis.
Q: Over the years, how has the company changed?
A: Over the years, there has been many changes to the Archbald Community Ambulance and Rescue Squad. It is wonderful to see how we have grown from our humble beginnings to where we are now. Prior to 1957, if you needed an ambulance you would have found yourself being taken to the hospital in the back of a hearse or if you were injured in the mines, you would have been taken home in a horse-drawn enclosed black wagon. On July 2,1957, a town meeting was held at the Archbald Borough building to discuss organizing an ambulance unit for the Borough. On Nov. 7,1957, the first ambulance, a 1953 Superior Cadillac arrived at Smith’s Garage. The first call was on Nov. 19th,1957.
In 2012, we constructed a 3,600-square-foot building that currently houses two ambulances, a rescue truck, a quick response vehicle and an ATV.
We are much busier than we were five to 10 years ago. With the development of the Casey Highway, new and existing businesses on Business Route 6 in Eynon, the development of the industrial park and all of the businesses located there and new homes and developments, we are responding more than ever. For example, five years ago we may have averaged one call a day for a total of 365 calls for the year. In 2020, we averaged approximately four calls a day for a total of 1,460 calls for the year.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges the organization faces right now?
A: One of our biggest challenges ... for decades is recruiting volunteers. We understand how hard it is to volunteer when you work full time. Many of our volunteers work several jobs, have demanding careers and have family obligations. No prior medical training is required to join. You can be an attendant, which only requires basic first aid and CPR training. This is a great way to see what it is like to be in the back of an ambulance assisting a patient. Perhaps you feel that you can’t handle being in the back of the ambulance, well then being a driver is also an option. We require basic first aid, CPR and an emergency vehicle operations course. All of this training is provided by the organization.
COVID-19 has had an effect on our members responding to calls. Some of our members have medical concerns of their own and others fear contracting the virus and spreading it to their families and friends. Even though we do have the proper protective equipment for all of our members, there is still a major concern due to the unknowns about this virus.
Day time staffing of the ambulances has always been a concern. We currently employ seven trained EMTS to staff our ambulance seven days a week, 365 days a year between the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is at no cost to the residents of Archbald Borough.
Just like any other organization, finances are a big concern. The cost of medical supplies and equipment and the cost to maintain our equipment and state certifications continue to skyrocket.
Q: How does it feel to be the first female president of the organization?
A: I am truly honored to have been nominated as the first female president of the Archbald Community Ambulance and Rescue Squad. I feel that my grandfather is looking down from heaven and is proud of me and my accomplishments over the years. I am happy that I am able to assist my fellow neighbors in their time of need. My parents and sisters have been my biggest cheerleaders in life and that makes my heart happy knowing that I have such an incredible force supporting me. Archbald Borough residents and the surrounding communities are truly blessed to have members of this caliber available to assist them in their time of need.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a paramedic or EMT?
A: My advice to anyone looking to pursue a career in the emergency medical services is to become involved in your local community ambulance first. Being an EMT or paramedic is not something everyone can do. I recommend volunteering with your local organization and see if you can handle it. Not everyone is cut out to deal with the mental and physical aspects of this type of work. It is a great way to learn about what we do and also meet some amazing people along the way. I also recommend talking to your family about your decision. It takes a lot of time, training and dedication when you pursue a career in emergency medical services.