First-year student continues work on N.J. emergency squad

During his online lectures on Wednesdays, Tyler Cross ’23 sometimes needs to dash away from his computer and into an ambulance. As an EMT with the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer First Aid Squad in Millburn, N.J., Cross is continuing his work as a first responder while taking his Cornell classes remotely for the rest of the semester.

“It’s not like New York City where they’re out all day on COVID calls, but people are definitely scared here,” Cross said of his town, which is in Essex County, not far from Newark. “For our squad, we have this chronic anxiety about having enough supplies and equipment. Masks, gloves, anything related to PPE, we’re really short on right now.”

Cross said his squad is divided into two teams, one specially trained to respond to COVID-19 calls and another for regular calls. Although he’s on the regular squad, he has responded to several calls with patients who were infected with the COVID virus, because sometimes callers don’t know what the problem is when they call for help. All of the members on all of the teams have been trained in infectious disease protocols, he said.

The squad, made up of all volunteers, is also strained because some of its members have contracted the virus, and others are older or have health conditions that make it unsafe for them to respond to COVID calls, he said.

“It’s a good thing for me to do right now because it’s up to the younger members to pick up some of these shifts,” he said. “I like working as a team with other people and being competent at something that can help people who are right in front of me.”

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Cross entered an EMT cadet training program offered by his squad as a high school sophomore, excited by the idea of learning something new and being able to respond to 9-1-1 calls as a 16-year-old.

“It seemed really exciting to me and important,” he said. The training process brought home the incredible responsibility of the job. “I realized someone might be dying in front of me and I would be expected to do something about it. But that pushed me to study harder during my classes and to make sure I knew what I was doing. In the end, I felt like I was ready to do EMT work.”

During his regular shifts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Cross hangs out in the TV room of the squad building, working on Cornell homework, attending class and waiting for calls to come in. He’s planning to major in philosophy and economics.

Cross said most people in his town have been appreciative of first responders, including his mom, Shannon Cross, director of the Front-Line Appreciation Group (FLAG) of Millburn/Short Hills, who has organized an effort to collect donations to buy meals from local restaurants for first responders and hospital workers. The effort supports both healthcare workers and local small businesses, Cross said.

He's encouraging others to follow her lead.

“I would ask people to look to see how first responders are organized in your area,” he said. “Many volunteer groups are hurting right now because of lack of members and lack of funding. They definitely need money for PPE if they’re going to keep working.”

Rays of Hope is an ongoing series of stories showing how Cornell faculty, staff, students and alumni are responding with creativity and kindness to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have suggestions for a person to feature, please email Kathy Hovis at kah53@cornell.edu.

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