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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: Shawn Godfrey

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, December 24, 2006

Shawn Godrey is a paramedic and the Village Ambulance Service operations manager.
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.

Pittsfield - Shawn Godfrey, 36, works in a world that spins on life, death, and the emergency responses that might prevent one from claiming the other.

"You Are The Reason..."

His experiences have cultivated an appreciation of what is truly important, said the Village Ambulance Service operations manager and paramedic.

"What is truly important" includes his 10-year-old son, Godfrey said.

"I write him little notes and I end them with 'you are the reason my world keeps spinning,'" Godfrey, who is divorced, said during a recent interview."We are very close. I have him with me a lot and it's by choice."

The Houses That Grandfather Built

Godfrey lives in Pittsfield, a city that is knit into his family history.

"[As a youngster]I lived in a house that my grandfather built," he said. "He was a carpenter and he built five or six houses [along Plymouth Street]. He built houses on Nancy Avenue, which was named for my mother, and he built on Melica Avenue, which was named for the [family]surname."

Godfrey attended the Pomeroy elementary school to grade six and then attended the Crosby Middle School.

"Middle school was OK," he said, and noted that his enrollment occurred during an era when the term "junior high school" fell out of favor with education experts. "That kind of changed the experience for us, it wasn't as good as saying you were in 'junior high.' It wasn't such a big deal."

"I was kind of a quiet kid, and I got along with all the demographics. I had friends who were jocks and I did homework with the nerdy kids."

His high school choices seemed acceptable at the time he attended but hindsight has shown he could have followed a different academic path, he said.

"Taconic [high school] was an interesting experience," he said. "I took a vocational program, carpentry, because I thought it was an easy way to get through high school. Now I really wish I has taken more academics. I really like literature and writing, the arts as a whole."

"Do I Really Want To Do That?"

As a youth, he wasn't captivated by emergency services, he said. A budding romance was the catalyst for his emergency responder interest.

"I was never one of those kids who liked to hang around a scanner," he said. "But when my cousin met the owner of the County Ambulance, he suggested that I drive a [wheelchair-accessible transportation van. I was 16-and-a-half years old and I had to ask myself 'do I really want to do that?' And six months later, my brother was doing it and he said that it was a good job."

Godfrey did join the ambulance service as a "chair-van" driver and in 1988, at age 18, he earned certification as a basic-level emergency medical technician.

Once Bitten...

Before he was 20 years old, Godfrey was the manager of County's wheelchair transportation van department and was also "pulling shifts" as an EMT for the company's ambulance service.

He also enrolled in a paramedic education program.

"Once I was bitten by the EMS bug, I didn't go for intermediate level, I went right to paramedic," he said.

Once he earned paramedic certification, the enormity of the work, and what may hang in the balance, proved humbling, he said.

"It was exciting but it was scary at first," he said. "I think that's natural, I think you should be a little nervous when you are first certified."

Godfrey spent about 15 years with County Ambulance and joined the Village Ambulance team about two years ago. He works closely with the service's General Manager Bert Miller and Kara Miller, who is the office manager.

In The Field

As a paramedic, Godfrey is able to perform certain medical procedures "in the field," meaning while at the scene of a call or during transportation of a patient to a medical facility. Certified paramedic may orally or intravenously administer over 50 medications and may utilize a specific procedure - "intraosseous" - to administer medication to an infant under very specific circumstance.

Paramedics may also treat punctured lungs at a scene, he said.

"When you are at a scene, instinct kicks in," Godfrey said.

Godfrey is able to interpret a three-lead ECG [electrocardiogram] and is also able to assess a 12-lead procedure that delivers 12 views of the heart, he said. He has performed 4 needle decompressions, which are a medical response to a collapsed lung.

For the most part, the calls received at the town-based ambulance service do not involve trauma injuries, Godfrey said, and noted the exceptions are most often injuries received during motor vehicle collisions.

"You Will See Things That Will Change Your Life"

The EMT profession is generating an increased interest among younger individuals, Godfrey said. There is a need for younger folks within the profession, and basic- and intermediate-level EMTs are the foundation of most ambulance services, he said.

When asked to share his perspective about an EMT career, Godfrey agreed.

"I was a really sensitive kid and I'm a lot harder now," he said. "What I would recommend to people considering this as a profession is to expect to get in touch with your true emotions. You will see things in this profession that will change your life and the way you see things. And you must be able to put the training, the education, into practice. People need to be quick thinkers."

There are mechanisms for additional education at the paramedic level, Godfrey said.

"In terms of clinical training, there's always something you can do," he said. "You can become more credentialed, more specialized. I've always been interested in the psychological aspect of this on the [emergency medical service] providers. I would really like to be able to stay in this area, stay in this profession, and get involved in the educational aspect of it. I'd like to teach."

Cultured

Godfrey said that from a parental viewpoint, this region is exactly where he wants to raise his son.

"I love it," he said. "The Berkshires' geography is beautiful. I love the mountains. This is a great place to raise a child. It's cultured - we have museums and theaters, places for concerts - and it's quiet enough to be safe."

The Berkshires is an area of community involvement, neighborhood familiarity, and an intimacy that comes from a multi-generational population, he said.

"There Are No Words"

Serving as an emergency medical services provider for Berkshire residents is an exceptionally rewarding experience, he said.

"We do save lives," he said. "And that is an amazing experience.When people come in [to the Water Street ambulance service headquarters], when they look at you and shake your hand, when they say 'thanks,' that is indescribable. There are no words."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or 413-663-3384 ext. 29.
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