Residents celebrate island’s first responders

Thu, 10/31/2019 - 6:00pm
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It was Sunday afternoon, a little before 3 p.m., and the rain was coming down in heavy, gray sheets. The wind was gusting and the purple flag was up. Even though the distance from the parking lot to the inside the of the St. Andrew Parish Center was relatively short, the folks making their way through the rain were fairly soaked when they got inside.

Inside was an array of homemade pastries and treats, and hot coffee and lemonade.

A little after 3 p.m. on this soggy Sunday, the room was full and the celebration of the island’s first responders was underway. It was an event organized by the four religious groups on the island: St. Andrew Catholic Church, the Harbor Church, St. Ann’s By-the-Sea, and the Sons and Daughters of Ruth.

“We always expect the first responders to come out,” said Harbor Church pastor Peter Preiser as he surveyed the crowd, “but when the whole community turns out, as well!” In the spirit of things, the first responders did not want any one individual to be singled out as a symbol of their dedication to working as a team, Preiser said.

Preiser said, “Our first responders do so much for us,” adding that the “Rescue Squad numbers are up and up and up.” He noted the number of calls for the past three years: 315 for 2017; 378 for 2018; and 415 for 2019. The majority of those calls were made between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“We are blessed as a community to have so many committed people,” Preiser said, and that the island’s first responders “are the embodiment of what it means to serve others first. On behalf of the entire town, we thank you for your unflagging service to our community.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste said “Where would we be without police protection, fire protection and medical assistance? We’d be in chaos. We’d be in danger; we’d be in a world of hurt with little recourse or relief. Because of our first responders we are not in despair. They, you, are the Kevlar that makes the fabric of our community strong. We rely on you to be there for us.”

Lacoste dramatized the calls the first responders go on: “You all rushed to scenes of despair or disbelief or disaster or tragedy. You fought, you stabilized, you worked hard to minimize any further harm, damage, or injury. You left your job or your family to respond to often crazy situations and make them stable again. Then you’re expected to go back to work, or go back home. It takes a while to come down, for the adrenaline to get used up, for things to seem normal again for you. Until the next call...”

Lacoste concluded by saying, “Thank you, first responders, for all you do. We are grateful and proud of each and every one of you.”

Police Chief Vin Carlone said he had some concerns when he was approached about participating in the ceremony. “We’re paid to do a service. We’re paid to protect you — this is more about the volunteers. I’ve been here since 2003 and I observe the risks they take, running into a fully engulfed fire, not getting paid, no benefits. I’ve seen dozens and dozens of scenes, treating someone bleeding on the side of the road. This celebration is all about them, and I hope the celebration continues. I’m truly, truly impressed and value their service here.”

Resident Theresa Sisto spoke of an instance when she was injured by a door, “and I had fractures from here” — she gestured to the top of her head — “and all the way down.” She said she had no recollection of what happened, but when she opened her eyes, “Kate [McConville] was standing over me. I said, ‘What are you doing here?” She said, ‘I’m here to take you to the medical center.’ I said, ‘Why?’” (To much laughter.)

Resident Elliot Taubman also offered some personal recollections, and said, “For 46 years I’ve been banking on them. It’s what makes Block Island livable. Thank you rescue, fire department, police department.”

There were then prayers and blessings to the fleet and equipment offered by Father John Halloran, filling in for a vacationing Father Joe Potrano, Pastor Preiser, Rev. Eletha Buote- Greig of St. Ann’s, and Cantor Elliot Taubman of the Congregation Sons and Daughters of Ruth.

“Thank you, Patriots fans, for making us your pre-game show!” said Preiser to laughter, and Taubman added, “As my grandmother would say, essen — eat!”