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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Getting the Job Done: EMT, First Responder Honored

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Jody Kocsis was named Vermont's "EMS of the Year Basic Level" during a conference held during April in Burlington, Vt..
Pownal, Vt. - Jody Kocsis and Keith "Woody" Coon do not cast themselves as heroes, but their peers believe otherwise.

Good Guys To Have Around

Kocsis, 32, was named "EMT Of the Year-Basic Level" during a state Emergency Medical Services [EMS] conference held last month in Burlington, Vt.. Coon, 44, was named as the first-ever Pownal Fire Protective Association "First Responder of the Year" at an April 16 PFPA annual banquet.


Keith "Woody" Coon was named the Pownal Fire Protective Association "First Responder of the Year" during an April banquet. Coon has been a volunteer firefighter since 1982 and earned "First Responder" certification three years ago.
"I was not expecting [an award], not at all," said Kocsis during a May 1 interview at the PFPA fire house on Route 346. "They talk a little bit about the people getting the awards without saying the name, and I was listening and I'm thinking 'hey, this guy sounds a lot like me.' Then they announced my name and my heart about came out of my chest. I really didn't know what to say, I think at first I just said 'wow!'"

Kocsis is a volunteer EMT with the Bennington Rescue Squad and a firefighter with the PFPA.

Coon has spent 24 years as a town volunteer firefighter. He earned first responder certification about three years ago, and during 2005-2006, Coon responded to 223 emergency medical calls. His total responses for that time period, including fire, flood, and carbon monoxide calls, is 406.

He was completely surprised by the honor he received, Coon said.

"I was proud," he said of hearing his name announced at the banquet. "It's the first time in my life that I ever received anything like that. My whole family was proud."

PFPA Chief and town Forest Warden Craig O'Dell said that Coon and Kocsis are valued members of the department and can be counted on in any situation. The two are excellent role models for other firefighters and emergency responders, he said.

"It's great having two wonderful guys like this on this department," O'Dell said.

Kocsis is employed at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. as a custodian. He and his wife Alicia live on Jackson Cross Road with their four children.

Kocsis is a PFPA EMS captain and has earned firefighter 1 certification. He is certified as a cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructor and a controlling emergency vehicle operations [CEVO] instructor. Kocsis is certified in hazardous materials response and operations, and also as an incident commander. He has earned certification as a jaws of life operator and has completed wild land [brush and forest] firefighter education. He is a training officer for the state emergency services District 12, which includes Bennington, Stamford, Pownal, Shaftsbury, and Arlington.

Kocsis has been certified as an EMT for about three years and has been involved with 520 Bennington Rescue Squad calls. He plans to enroll in a 180-hour EMT intermediate level training program this fall, he said.

Coon became a volunteer firefighter in 1982. His impressive call response record reveals just a portion of his dedication; Coon is very often among those who pitch in for fire department work bees, show up for fire department drills, and participate in behind-the-scenes duties.

Coon is employed at Tornabene's GMC on Route 7. He lives on Furlong Road with his wife Maureen and their three children.

Kocsis was among those who acknowledged Coon's dedication and skill.

"Woody definitely knows his stuff," said Kocsis. "I don't have to worry when Woody [responds to a call]."

A deep respect for community service motivates Coon and Kocsis.

Training, Testing, And Time

"I really just love doing this," said Kocsis. "It's about saving the things that are so important to people. I know that I appreciate it when someone helps me."

The initial training and testing and the continuing education required for volunteer firefighters and EMTs is challenging and time-consuming. Education seminars and hands-on training sessions may be held miles away from home. The work requires enormous commitment, which means time away from family. Kocsis and Coon are active with fundraising and other organization support efforts and those initiatives also mean time away from home.

Volunteer firefighters, first responders, and EMTs may not receive pay for their services but face the same challenges and risks as their paid counterparts.

For example, fires are dangerous regardless of whether a firefighter is paid or volunteer, and medical emergencies are not mindful of the paid or volunteer status of the responder.

"I do think that volunteers have to work harder for what they get," Kocsis said. "It's hard to work a job and go to fire school, and now, before you can fight a fire, you have to get your 'firefighter 1 [certification]. That's the education and taking the test."

EMT training and the certification process requires enormous time, attention, and dedication as well, Kocsis said. EMTs may be certified as basic or intermediate level, or as paramedics.

"It all starts with basics," said Kocsis. "Even the paramedics have to know their basics."

There are times when the efforts interfere with family plans.

"I called my wife right after I was given the award and she said she was very proud of me," Kocsis said. "But she also said it didn't excuse my being gone so much."

"With my family, they all know that when a call comes in, I gotta go," Coon said. "I love helping people and I love helping my community. This work makes me feel good. I don't do it for thrills, I don't do it to be a hero. I just love doing it, and I'll do it until I can't any more."

Coon said people should understand that his ability to respond to medical or fire emergencies during the daytime is because his employer permits him to leave his job "no questions asked."

"I take my hat off to my employer," Coon said. "He is the one who lets us go. That's why I can make all the calls, I work in town and my employer supports us. We're gone as long as we have to be."

"We"

The words "we" and "us" peppered Kocsis' and Coons' conversations throughout the interviews, and with good reason, according to the two honored volunteers. Neither Coon nor Kocsis are "one-man shows;" both emphasized that they provide services in the company of well-trained, dedicated men and women who are also volunteers.

"We do what we have to do," said Coon. "And we get the job done."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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