Thursday, May 27, 2010
ROCHESTER, Minn. — As the country prepares to observe the Memorial Day holiday, Gold Cross Ambulance marks a special milestone assisting those who have served. Gold Cross paramedics have now accompanied more than 500 World War II veterans — members of what former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw called "The Greatest Generation" — to Washington, D.C., to visit the national mall and the WWII monument designed to honor them.
Gold Cross began participating with the Honor Flight program in 2008 in an effort to help World War II veterans visit the memorial erected in their honor. Gold Cross provides three paramedics for each flight which originates in Rochester. This paramedic coverage is provided at no charge to either the veterans or Honor Flight. Typically, 80 to 90 WWII veterans are aboard each trip. Gold Cross paramedics completed their two most recent trips with the veterans this May.
"This program has become a way for us to give back to those who have given us so much through their service to our country," says Paul Anderson, Gold Cross chief operating officer. "We recognize the urgency to assist with this program, both from a safety perspective for the veterans and from a timing standpoint, and have committed to do our part to help these WWII heroes get their opportunity to see the memorial created for them."
The time for honoring WWII veterans continues to diminish each day. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs and Arlington National Cemetery statistics, about 1,200 WWII veterans pass away each day. The average age of the veterans Gold Cross has accompanied is 88 years old.
The high level of training Gold Cross paramedics receive equips them for responding to a variety of medical and trauma situations while they are on the job in the communities Gold Cross serves. Special events like Honor Flight forge an additional bond between paramedics and those they serve. "The paramedics who travel on these trips have something in common with the World War II veterans, because the staff we select are military veterans — either retired or actively serving while they are employed by Gold Cross," Anderson notes. He says that Gold Cross' participation in Honor Flight, including 18 employees from Gold Cross sites in Minnesota and Wisconsin who have made the trip, has been well received by both the veterans and the paramedics.
The Gold Cross team comes equipped for duty on Honor Flight trips. "Our team members have medical packs and an automated external defibrillator (AED) with them on the trip," says Tom Beniak, Gold Cross manager in Rochester and coordinator of the company's participation. "Our team can provide first-line medical care ranging from applying a bandage to administering lifesaving medicine, if necessary, and will coordinate with local (Washington, D.C.) emergency medical services (EMS) if something more serious occurs."
Fortunately thus far, Beniak says, most of the emergency care provided has been of a less urgent nature, such as bee stings, dehydration, blood pressure and blood sugar level monitoring, and care for minor cuts and scrapes. "However, with the advanced age of Honor Flight participants, we are there to provide immediate care if something more serious occurs. We can start intravenous (IV) solutions if required and serve as medical first responders to work with local EMS, if the need arises," Beniak explains.
The Gold Cross paramedics spend the day with the veterans touring the WWII memorial and other famous landmarks and memorials in Washington and then return to Rochester late the same day. The next Honor Flight which Gold Cross will be part of is scheduled for October. The program originally started with two flights per year out of Rochester, but a third has been added due to the increasing interest of WWII veterans.
The sponsoring organization, Honor Flight Network, now in its fourth year, explains on its Web site that it is "committed to positively changing the lives of World War II veterans with a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit 'their' Memorial." Honor Flight receives no corporate sponsorships or government subsidies and is funded solely by private donations.
Editor's note: Local Gold Cross paramedics who have participated in Honor Flight trips are available for interview.
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