Department Spotlight: EMS

Posted on Tuesday June 29, 2021
A look into the Emergency Medical Services serving Cheltenham for almost 40 years!

In 2022, the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department will celebrate 40 years of service to our Township!  As the first municipally-operated ambulance service in Montgomery County (now one of two), EMS Operations started in 1982, with 29 volunteers.   Using basic life support equipment and working out of an old police van, EMS responded to just over 200 calls that first year.  Since then, Cheltenham’s EMS has grown to a combination of over 40 career, part-time, and volunteer staff, paramedics, and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), and responds to over 3,000 calls for service annually. 
EMS inside
When reporting to work—their
12.5-hour shifts start at 06:00pm and 6:00pm—EMS personnel check out the ambulances they are using and all of the onboard equipment.  After completing this task, they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining the building(s).  Beyond these routine duties of equipment maintenance and checking supplies, EMS personnel have to be ready for emergency calls from the moment they report for duty.  As they say, “when the bells ring,” these first responders have to be prepared for whatever they find when they arrive on the scene.  From broken bones to heart attacks, diabetic emergencies to mental health crises and more, Cheltenham’s EMS Department is always ready to help when calls come in at all hours of the day, any day of the year.

Our EMS personnel chose this career because they have a passion for helping people. The Emergency Medical Service is on the front lines of medical emergencies, and can make a huge difference in a life or death situation by administering aid or transporting patients.  Our paramedics and EMTs also stated they like the versatility of the job – no two days are alike!  EMS can be a career in itself, though some choose this job or volunteer position during the course of their studies to pursue another medical career.  Either way, the reward of helping others motivates the team to do what they do.  EMS Director Ken Hellendall said, “We receive beautiful letters from people we have helped; their ‘Thank you’s make it all worthwhile.”  At the same time, some days on the job can be immensely more challenging than others.  “Beyond a doubt, the call that every EMS provider dreads is one that involves a sick child. The worst possible scenario is when an EMS provider does everything in his or her power, and a child does not survive,” Ken said.

In his role as Director, Ken enjoys coordinating with the other Township Departments and the Commissioners. EMS works most closely with the other Emergency Services – the Township’s four fire companies, the Police Department, and the Township Emergency Management Agency (EMA).  At large fires and other emergency events, EMS provides rehabilitation services to fire companies and police when required, which consists of tasks like medical monitoring and checking vital signs, remediating hypo/hyperthermia, and offering emergency medical care to those on scene.

Before the pandemic, EMS attended church, school, and social events including block parties, providing education about how the Emergency Medical Service operates, and they look forward to these educational events again in the future.  EMS members also provide stand-by services at sporting events, graduations, and other similar occasions. The EMS Department welcomes volunteer members from the community who share a passion for helping people through medical services.  

Ken has been an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) since 1977 and stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most difficult time he’s ever experienced.  When people were to observe stay-at-home orders and many transitioned to working from home to avoid COVID-19, this was not an option for first responders like the EMS.  At the forefront of serving patients with COVID-19, EMS providers were concerned for their health and that of their families should they contract COVID-19 and carry the virus home.  Paramedics and EMTs heightened all sanitation procedures and wore head-to-toe personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves while continuing to serve those in need of their services.  “It was a stressful time all-around.  It was mentally draining for EMS personnel to hold the stress of their personal health concerns and to be surrounded by so many people sick with COVID-19, but this job of service remained our priority and we knew the mission that we signed up to do,” said Ken.

EMS responds to all 9-1-1 calls regardless of the patient’s ability to pay for services rendered (though they do not do routine transports).  While the paramedic makes the final decision of which hospital a patient will be transported to, in most cases one will be transported to the hospital of their choosing among the hospitals we serve (Abington Memorial, Holy Redeemer, Chestnut Hill, Einstein Elkins Park, Einstein Philadelphia, and Jeanes).  EMS then bills a patient’s insurance company and the patient would be responsible for anything not covered by insurance.  However, for Township residents, EMS offers a subscribership program.  In this program, EMS will still bill subscribers’ insurance companies, but they will have no out-of-pocket expenses.  More on the subscription program can be found here.

Cheltenham Township’s EMS Department is proud of their 40-year history and will continue to be here for our community whenever assistance is needed—24/7/365.

EMS outside

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