Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Gerrit Blauvelt, Ulster BOCES provided him with the leadership skills needed to work as a paramedic field supervisor during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blauvelt, a graduate of the Ulster BOCES Criminal Justice program, says it was his teacher's advice that led him to a career as a first responder. He says that after graduating in 2006, he got his volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) card. “My instructor said to get some experience—that it would look good on my resume,” he recalls about volunteering for the Wallkill Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “I knew right off the bat this is what I wanted to do. I liked it so much that it changed my career path.”
The Wallkill High School graduate says enrolling in the Ulster BOCES program improved his academic performance at his home school. “My grades weren’t good. I was one of those students who learned better through a hands-on approach,” Blauvelt explains. “It inspired me to get my grades up and apply myself.”
The Tillson resident says that after graduating from Ulster BOCES, he was hired by Mobile Life as an EMT and enrolled as a full-time student in the SUNY Ulster Paramedic program. After graduating with his associate’s degree in 2008, he officially became a paramedic at the ambulance company. “I was very fortunate to be employed by them. I was able to get good experience and mentorship here.”
Blauvelt remembers working in the emergency medical services sector prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was more comfortable. Before this outbreak, we used universal precautions like wearing gloves if there was a communicable disease. We would adjust accordingly,” he recalls.
Now, the married father-of-two says doubling up surgical and N-95 masks, and wearing two pairs of gloves and eye protection are part of the necessary precautions while caring for potential COVID-19 patients. Body isolation gowns are also worn to create a barrier between providers’ uniforms and any pathogens they may encounter during a call. “It makes your job exponentially harder, especially now that it is summer,” he explains.
While Blauvelt says these additional preventative measures make assessing a patient's condition and providing treatment or life support care more difficult, he acknowledges that it reduces the risk that he will transmit or contract the disease. “We take so many precautions that it is highly unlikely that I would catch it. I worry about bringing it home though,” he shares. He says he takes additional precautions when he gets home, like taking off his uniform in the garage, washing his clothes separately, and showering immediately. He explains that he doesn’t hug his wife or children until those safeguards are in place. At the beginning of the outbreak, he says he and his wife talked about taking advantage of a donation program that would have housed him in a hotel. “We talked about it and we decided that it wasn’t for us,” he says, adding that several of his coworkers have decided not to stay at home with their families during the pandemic. “We have people who are staying in campers on their front lawn or staying in cabins in the Catskills.”
Blauvelt says he is humbled by healthcare workers' unwavering dedication to helping those who are sick. “There is some fear and anxiety because of so many unknowns, but this is our time to shine and take care of our patients,” he emphasizes. “I have seen the healthcare industry as a whole step up to the plate and workers put their own safety aside for their patients.”
Whether it’s wearing personal protective equipment during the hot summer months, experiencing a pay cut to ensure no Mobile Life employees lose their jobs, treating very sick patients, or responding to calls where people are experiencing stress or other mental health issues, the job can certainly take its toll. Blauvelt credits his professionalism and demeanor during the pandemic all the way back to his days at the Ulster BOCES Career & Technical Center. “BOCES Criminal Justice provided me with leadership and real-world work skills I use every day at work,” he remarks. “You get skills from Ulster BOCES that you don’t get from any other school environment.”