Answering the Call: Reflection from Port Jefferson Senior Supervisor

By William T. Meeks IV

I had been working from home for about two weeks and was finally getting used to the remote routine. Working from home in my current role as Senior Supervisor was unexpected. I was putting in long hours, trying my best to support everything my team needed, while at the same time, trying to achieve the same effectiveness as if I was in the office.

Since 1992, I have been part of the Emergency Response Team at National Grid, and for the past three years, I have been a member of the Hauppauge Fire Department. I’m proud to share that I am a firefighter, fire company secretary, and chauffer (fire truck driver) for Engine Company 3.

On the cold morning of April 6, at 3:00 a.m., the loud tones of my pager went off. Our dispatcher announced a call for assistance at the Arbors Assisted Living, a home for elderly individuals. Typically, early morning calls only receive a light response from volunteers, so we left the fire house with a crew of three people – me, an officer and a new firefighter.  We were familiar with the Arbor facility, having been there for automatic alarms and EMS assistance calls.  I was the chauffer and was hesitant about entering a home for the elderly, since it was a known fact that COVID-19 was widespread through similar facilities. As chauffer, my main role is to get the truck to the scene and operate the fire pump when needed. However, we had limited information on what to prepare for, all we knew was that a resident was trapped inside a room.

When we arrived at the scene, the designated fire marshal informed us that the resident passed out up against the door and was unable to move. Since the resident’s head was against it, they were unable to open the door. We were instructed to place an extension ladder up to the third-story window and try to gain entry to the room. After helping the other firefighter get the ladder in place, the team decided that I should be the one to go up. There was worry that our new firefighter might not have the strength to move the man away from the door.

I was geared up with a medical mask and my full firefighting gear. I climbed the ladder towards the resident’s window. Once I reached the top, I quickly grabbed my prybar from my jacket pocket. The reflection of the emergency lights flashed brightly in the glass as I was able to access one side of the sliding window. With determination, I unlocked it and slid the window open. There was one more obstacle I had to face upon gaining entry into the room: heavyweight wooden blinds. I immediately ripped them off the wall, and was able to step onto a flower patterned, winged back chair to get into the room. When my eyes focused in the dim light, I saw the man on the floor. He was right in front of the door, wearing only a shirt and grasping his cane. I went over to him and light heartedly asked, “How’s it going tonight, sir?” His response, “Not so good.” After asking him relevant medical questions, I determined to move him away from the door without adding to his injuries. I reviewed the plan and counted to three before moving him.  After three moves, and mounting complaints from the resident, the EMTs were able to enter the room and provide the medical attention he desperately needed.

It wasn’t until I was back outside that I was told the resident I assisted recently tested positive for COVID-19. The officer in charge made certain that I touched nothing else after the call. My officer drove the fire truck back to the firehouse as I quarantined in the back, by myself. I still had my gear on when we arrived at the firehouse.  Using disinfectant, a car wash brush, and a hose, they scrubbed me down in the misty fog of the morning. I removed all my gear and placed it in a bag to be cleaned offsite and immediately took a shower.

Later that morning, I reported the incident to my Plant Manager, Art Olsen, who thanked me right away for my service to the community. Following that conversation, I called Sedgewick to report the incident. I am happy to say that the infection window came and passed, and I exhibited no symptoms during that time. Since I was working from home, I was able to continue working throughout my quarantine.

I’m grateful that I answered the call of duty to help save that resident at the Arbor facility, but I’m also thankful for the quick thinking of my officer and the consideration from my supervisor for helping me get through this unprecedented time.