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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 21, 2007

Departments team up to fight fire on a hot day

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — An intense blaze Tuesday morning completely destroyed a Carman Road home, but the four children inside and their babysitter made it out unscathed.

"Everyone got out of the house safely; we even got the goldfish out," said Fort Hunter Fire Chief Bob Pagnotti.

The fire began on the right hand corner of the deck behind 3393 Carman Rd., and quickly spread to the rest of the home, Pagnotti said.

"We got the call at approximately 10:15 that morning," said Pagnotti. "The first officer on the scene saw flames coming out of the back of the house."

The 20-year-old babysitter got all of the young children out of the home and called for help as several passers-by who saw the smoke and flames also called 911.

According to town records, the home belongs to Arnold R. Naparty.

A total of eight fire departments responded to the call as temperatures reached above 90 degrees and heavy humidity settled in. A section of Carman Road was closed from 10 a.m. until after 3 p.m.

"The fire was under control in about an hour"but it wasn’t completely out until 3," Pagnotti said. "There was very extensive damage to about 70 percent of the house. Consider it a complete loss."

The back of the house was "completely gone," ceilings and floors had collapsed, and portions of the roof had collapsed, said Pagnotti. He added that the heat from the fire was so intense that "one-third of the vinyl siding melted from a neighboring house"and they were a distance away."

The fire was dangerous, but, Pagnotti said, good planning and smart fire fighting led to no injuries.

"We backed everyone out when the roof starting showing signs of fatigue"It can be a dangerous situation if you fall through a floor and you don’t know what you’re falling into," said Pagnotti. "That always goes through your mind."

The air temperature was a factor, too.

"We have a rehabilitation program where North Bethlehem comes in with an air-conditioning tent and paramedics check the firefighters’ blood pressures and provide refreshments," Pagnotti said. "Everyone was told to take breaks and cool down"It’s a very good rehab process. They have a great big blue tent and blow it up with air; it’s a fabulous piece of equipment."

Pagnotti said the cause of the fire was still under investigation, but he did say that, "It was not smoking related"It was purely accidental."

The family is currently receiving assistance from the Red Cross and is being helped by the generosity of family and friends, said Pagnotti.

"They’ve had offers from people to move in," Pagnotti said. "Their friends and neighbors appear to be doing an awful lot for them."

The following fire departments assisted on Tuesday: Fort Hunter Fire Department; Guilderland Fire Department; Guilderland Center Fire Department; Westmere Fire Department; Carman Fire Department; North Bethlehem Fire Department; Rotterdam District 2; and Stanford Heights Fire Department.

Guilderland Police revamps its high ranks

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The town’s police force has promoted four officers among its ranks.

On Tuesday night, the town board unanimously approved the permanent appointment of Daniel P. McNally as lieutenant, from sergeant, and Donald F. Jones as sergeant, from patrolman. The board also approved the provisional appointment of Emanuel Shulman as technical police first sergeant; he had been an investigator.

A fourth Guilderland Police officer, Dean Spazaro, was promoted to senior patrolman, from patrolman. All of the men were ceremoniously promoted yesterday afternoon in Town Hall.

Guilderland Police have been without an official police chief since the retirement of long-term chief James Murley on May 30, following allegations of misconduct. Deputy Police Chief Carol Lawlor has been running the department since mid-February when Murley was put on administrative leave.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion told The Enterprise that the police force is revamping its ranks, but that a new chief has not been named as of yet. Lieutenant Curtis Cox is currently the second in command at the police station under Lawlor.

"We’re trying to get all of the other things in place before we begin searching for our new chief," Runion said.

When asked in May, after Murley announced his retirement, Lawlor told The Enterprise, "That’s a decision that I will have to make when the town board is ready to start looking for someone"We’re just concentrating on doing our jobs to the best of our abilities right now."

Officers in the police department are required to go through the same Albany County Civil Service requirements as other town employees, which includes interviews, meeting particular qualifications, taking a test if it is deemed to be in the "competitive class," and then being picked from a list of several potential candidates.

"The first-sergeant position was never a civil service position before," Runion said about why Shulman had a "provisional" appointment. The county has to create a test for him to take because the position includes administrative duties and information technology functions.

Once Shulman takes and passes the exam, he can be permanently appointed by the town board, Runion said.

After the meeting, the town board went into an executive session to go over and discuss employee performance reviews. As part of the town’s new employee manual, which was adopted earlier this year, workers town-wide have their performance reviewed by their supervisors.

"The board has a lot of performance reviews to go over," Runion told The Enterprise yesterday. "The reviews are handed in and put into personnel files."

Runion then reviews the work of supervisors and department heads around town. He called the executive session because he wanted to give the board a chance to go over reviews and personnel files before the budget workshops begin, Runion said.

Currently, the reviews are used for evaluation and for budgeting talks; there is nothing in place to reward employees with good reviews or penalize them for bad ones.

"There isn’t anything like that in place now, but it might be something the board may want to look into in the future," Runion said.

When it comes to elected officials, however, Runion said that’s the public’s job.

"We have the voters do our performance reviews," he said.

Other business

In other business, the town board unanimously:

— Approved issuing civic facility revenue bonds by the town’s Industrial Development Agency to finance a project for Wildwood Programs, Inc. Councilmen Paul Pastore commented that there was no public comment when the project was proposed at a meeting;

— Approved the request of Stuyvesant Plaza for an easement along Western Avenue for an underground electric line. Stuyvesant Plaza’s attorney, Jim Schultz, said that the power line was only an "upgrade" and would not add lighting or fixtures to the plaza. Schultz also said that the new power line could provide the lights for the McKownville Park behind the plaza;

— Authorized a grant application for refurbishing and upgrading the Guilderland Performing Arts Center. The GPAC renovations is part of a $177,000 project that will also include a new pool house. The grant money, from the county, will chip in $85,000.

"The pool building is going to be totally removed and a new building constructed to meet the codes and regulations of the county health department," Runion told The Enterprise. Work on the new pool house is planned to begin at the end of the pool season this summer, after Labor Day, and a new building is expected to be in place by the start of the 2008 season; and

— Scheduled the next town board meeting for July 10, after the holiday.

GOP hopes for Grimm to end Dems’ reign

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After a hiatus in town politics, Republicans are looking to revitalize their party and end a nearly decade-long Democratic hold on the town board.

Mark Grimm has officially announced he is running for town board on the Republican ticket this fall.

Since Guilderland’s founding, over 200 years ago, the Republicans or their predecessors, the Whigs, had ruled the town. That changed when a Democratic supervisor was elected in the 1990’s. The town board is now made up entirely of Democrats.

Town Democrats say they won’t make any official announcements until August, but Supervisor Kenneth Runion and town councilmen David Bosworth and Michael Ricard are up for election this fall.

All three men are expected to run again for re-election.

Town Clerk Rosemary Centi and Highway Superintendent Todd Gifford are also up for re-election. Gifford is the sole Republican in Guilderland holding an elected position.

Bosworth, who is also the town’s Democratic chair and Albany County’s Democratic co-chair, told The Enterprise that his party has not yet made a decision on whether it will endorse Gifford or put up its own candidate to run against him.

Albany County Legislator Lee Carman is Guilderland’s Republican Committee chairman. Carman represents Fort Hunter in the county legislature.

Grimm said that Republicans are putting together a partial slate to run against the Democrats this fall. He told The Enterprise that Tyler Brandt of Guilderland is looking to run against Supervisor Runion and that Barbara Davis of Altamont is looking to run for town board along with Grimm.

Last election, the Republicans did no back a candidate for supervisor.

The latest numbers from the Albany County Board of Elections show that, out of 22,362 registered voters in the town of Guilderland:

— 37 percent are Democrats;

— 31 percent are Republicans; and

— 32 percent are enrolled in one of the small parties or are not enrolled in a party.

Grimm’s platform

Relying on his experience as a political consultant and an investigative television reporter, Grimm is running on a platform of open government and proper economic development.

"We all complain about politics, but it will never change unless we change it ourselves," Grimm told The Enterprise, "I think it’s incumbent upon me to generate some enthusiasm for the Republican Party in town."

Grimm said it is time for change on Guilderland’s all-Democratic board. He believes with his background, experience, and passion he cannot only revitalize a functioning two-party system, but act as a watchdog for the town’s interest.

Grimm is the president of Mark Grimm Communications in Guilderland. The company is a media relations, public speaking training, and political consulting firm.

Having managed five political campaigns in New York, Grimm has run himself, he said, coming within 114 votes of unseating a 16-year incumbent in a Monroe County Legislative race.

"The town government is very secretive. They billed themselves as an open government 10 years ago, but today you have to battle with them for basic freedoms of information," Grimm said. "The whole idea of the law is that these documents are not government property; they are the people’s property."

The Freedom of Information Law provides for the public’s right to government records and is used by the media and individuals alike to access information.

"The problem with the FOIL law is there is no penalty. They should be punished for withholding information," Grimm said. "I happen to believe the people should take the info and make a decision for themselves"If you watch a town board meeting, everything’s 5-0, 5-0, 5-0, because it’s decided in advance."

Grimm questioned how people can make an informed decision or judgement if they do not have the necessary information.

The town of Guilderland recently saw widespread media and public criticisms for withholding information following allegations of misconduct against its former police chief, James Murley. The allegations led to Murley’s retiring from the post at the end of May.

"All the more reason to get someone like me in there," Grimm said. "We need a watchdog." Grimm said Murley was "one case out of many, many cases" that showed secrecy in Town Hall.

Citing his 12-year journalism career as an anchor and reporter, Grimm said he has the investigative skills needed to uncover truth, coupled with the media savvy and communication skills to advance the causes of constituents.

"I think it would be a positive thing for the people of Guilderland," he said. "There’s a lot going on that we’re not aware of"everything on that town board seems to be done in advance."

Another major issue in town is economic development, Grimm said.

"Economic development is a fancy term for creating jobs and expanding the tax base"I understand this, but the board doesn’t," said Grimm. "The town of Guilderland has an anti-business reputation"We should be working to cooperate with area businesses to expand the tax base and expand the quality of life."

Concluding, Grimm said, "This antagonistic attitude doesn’t help anyone."

Grimm said the political makeup of Guilderland’s roughly 35,000 residents are not currently represented in the Town Hall.

He says voters will now have a choice.

If residents vote along party lines, Grimm will have to appeal to third-party and non-affiliated voters to win in the fall.

"The town of Guilderland is wide open to unaffiliated voters"There’s nothing in the numbers that says a Republican can’t win," Grimm said.

Will be Saratoga assistant super
Principal Piccirillo leaves GHS

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — After not quite 20 months as principal of Guilderland High School, Michael Piccirillo is moving on.

He’ll leave his post at Guilderland on July 13 and on July 16, he’ll start a new job as assistant superintendent for secondary education and curriculum with the Saratoga Springs City School District.

Piccirillo describes his new job, at a district with about 7,000 students, roughly 1,300 more students than Guilderland, as "a perfect fit."

"I’ll be overseeing all the curriculum and instruction at the secondary level," he said, noting that’s where his background is, first as a social-studies teacher and coach and later as an assistant principal and then a principal.

Before coming to Guilderland, Piccirillo was the lead middle-school principal at Shenendehowa.

"I would have liked to stay here longer," Piccirillo said of Guilderland, but the opportunity to be a district-wide administrator with "a secondary focus" is rare, he said, and he thought he might not get the chance again.

He’ll earn $121,000 his first year at Saratoga Springs; his pay this year at Guilderland High School was $114,290.

Asked what he accomplished while principal at Guilderland, Piccirillo said, "I’m proud we established a comprehensive vision for the high school."

He worked with the staff to set 10 school-wide goals. They include: "engaging students in real-life application of knowledge and skills," reviewing current assessment of student progress "to develop assessments which go beyond the standards and include multiple means of collection and sharing data," having staff develop "positive supportive relationships with students with the ideal goal of each student having one adult at school they feel connected to," planning ways for the entire staff to "interact socially and develop personal relationships," and creating a leadership program that "provides students with the skills to represent and advocate for the entire student body."

Piccirillo said he is also pleased with the progress that was made in easing the transition from middle school to ninth grade and with some changes in the block scheduling.

Asked about his greatest challenges at Guilderland, Piccirillo said, "Change is difficult in any organization of this size. The challenge is how to work collaboratively in the best interest of the kids."

He went on, "Guilderland has a very good reputation, which is well-deserved. It’s always a challenge to continue to build on that success."

What will he miss when he starts his new job" "First and foremost, the students," said Piccirillo. "In a central office, I won’t have as much contact with the students," he said.

He concluded, "This is a great school. Our kids are so successful in so many ways, not just academically but in music, art, and sports."

"Hard worker"

Gregory Aidala, who will himself be retiring in November after seven years as Guilderland’s superintendent, had nothing but praise for Piccirillo this week.

"I enjoyed working with Mike," he said. "He was a very hard worker, and was approachable by staff, students, and parents. He was very student-centered. He constantly asked himself, ‘Is this in the best interest of the students"’"

Aidala pointed out that Piccirillo periodically had lunch with the high-school students.

Among Piccirillo’s accomplishments, Aidala cited his work on smoothing students’ transition from the middle school to the high school, his focus on issues at the building-cabinet level, and his instituting changes in the advisory period.

Students who spend half of the 85-minute period studying music will be able to take elective courses next year during the other half of the period.

Piccirillo also introduced a "PM school," for suspended or at-risk students, efficiently replacing individual tutoring, said Aidala.

And, Aidala called the 10 goals set up during Piccirillo’s tenure "a guiding influence in a lot of faculty discussions."

"We certainly wish that Mike would have stayed a longer period of time," said Aidala, "but a professional opportunity opened that really matched his background."

Looking for a long-timer

Aidala went on, "We wish the continuity was for a longer period of time."

Piccirillo was the second short-term principal at Guilderland High School with an interim principal in between. When John Whipple retired in 2003 after 14 years as principal, he was replaced by Ismael Villafane.

Villafane left after two years to return to Texas where he had spent decades as an educator. Frank Tedesco, a retired administrator who spent three decades in education, filled in at Guilderland after Villafane announced he was leaving in June of 2005 until Piccirillo started working just after Thanksgiving that year.

Aidala met with the school board in executive session on Tuesday night to "go over the background" of people he had contacted to serve as interim principal until a replacement for Piccirillo is found.

The board took no action on Tuesday, but will hear a recommendation and make an appointment of an interim principal at its next meeting, July 9, said Aidala.

The district will advertise to fill the post permanently, Aidala said, and candidates will go through at least two rounds of interviews conducted by committees made up of teachers, parents, supervisors, and administrators.

"We’d like to have a successful candidate by October 1," said Aidala. "The earlier, the better."

The search is currently underway for a new superintendent since Aidala is retiring in November.

"I feel strongly the new superintendent has to be involved in the process," Aidala said of the search or the new high-school principal.

He concluded, "We want someone that will spend many years here."

Kindergartners who opened Pine Bush Elementary are ready to take on the world

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — A group of high-school seniors looked back to a time that seemed distant as they stood in the bright sunshine Thursday afternoon in a place that was once very familiar — the courtyard of Pine Bush Elementary School.

The school was brand new when they were kindergartners.

Katie Moran stood with a group of three girlfriends and reminisced.

"I thought the teachers were taller," said Moran, who is now a willowy 5 feet, 9 inches tall.

She had fond memories of her teacher, Mrs. Lawrence. "I would ask Mrs. Lawrence if I could put stickers on the test; that was my favorite thing," she recalled.

Moran now plans to be a teacher herself. She’ll be attending the State University of New York College at Fredonia in the fall to study early childhood education with the goal of becoming a first- or second-grade teacher.

"It’s cool," said Anneli Karmo of the reunion. "I like seeing everyone. I forgot who went here," she said.

Pine Bush, built in 1994, was the fifth of the Guilderland elementary schools. The students then converge to go to the same middle school and high school.

Karmo, as she stood Thursday with Moran, Cortnee Gillson, and Sonia Mayta, said the group had remained friends through their 13 years of school. They live near each other.

She will be attending Hudson Valley Community College in the fall as will Mayta, who plans to study business and then hopes to go on to Syracuse University to take courses that will lead to law school.

Gillson will be going to Siena College, definitely to study science and perhaps to take courses leading to medical school.

Near the cluster of young women, Brian Harrington looked at a Pine Bush yearbook. He noted how much everyone, including himself, had changed.

Now a slim young man with short-cropped hair, his elementary yearbook photo showed a round-faced boy with a bowl cut over wide eyes.

Asked what he remembered from his days at Pine Bush, Harrington recalled filling jugs with water of different colors and arranging them to make a picture when viewed from above.

Harrington’s favorite teacher at Pine Bush was Mr. Horan. "He was always fun," Harrington recalled of his fourth-grade teacher, Timothy Horan. "He had a Wheaties box collection," featuring the athletes of the day.

Harrington will be going to SUNY Plattsburgh in the fall to study sociology.

"I’m going to become a State Trooper," he said with confidence. "I’m looking for excitement in life."

One of the teachers at Thursday’s reunion, Catherine Pickett, carried a class picture with her. "This is my first-ever class," said the third-grade teacher.

Although she said she had trouble recognizing some of her long-ago students, Pickett really enjoyed talking to them. "They’re so beautiful and just have so much promise," she said.

Martha Beck said she recognized some students right off. "You look into their face and you see that smile and you know who it is," she said.

Beck mingled with the students on Thursday as they munched on pizza and sipped soda. Beck was principal of the school when it opened, a job she still has today.

She had been principal of Guilderland Elementary School when it re-opened in 1987; it had closed just as Fort Hunter Elementary, near the new Pine Bush Elementary, had closed as the student population dipped after the baby boomers went through.

"So many of our children were moving over," said Beck of the Guilderland students who would come to Pine Bush, "I thought it would be fun to do over again."

The district superintendent at the time had called Beck a consummate host.

One of the hardest parts, Beck said, was dealing with the anxiety that some parents had about the switch. "The children adjust well," said Beck.

Beck was surprised Thursday by some of the memories former students shared with her. "I had ducked," said one student who was sent to her office after another student got hit in the eye.

Beck said the reunion was the brainchild of the teachers who planned it and funded it.

She went on, "A day like today makes you feel good about it all, listening to their plans for the future...It’s what’s important in education."

Beck concluded, "This school has always built a nice community."

Old Songs to communicate
Stories through murder ballads, parking-lot picking

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Stories of old are told with the mournful twang of Mark Schmitt’s fiddle.

Many of the bluegrass songs he plays with his band, The Stillhouse Rounders, were sung 200 years ago. "They actually chronicled events," he said of the murder ballads that passed on news in the Appalachian Mountains years ago.

Some of those songs will be performed at this year’s Old Songs festival, to be held at the Altamont fairgrounds on the weekend of June 22.

Schmitt first discovered bluegrass at a similar music festival when he was in college. "What impressed me is what came to be known as parking-lot picking," he said. "It’s like a form of communication."

One person will play something and another answers, he said. "It wasn’t long before I went to get my first fiddle in a pawn shop in Dallas, Texas," he said. At the time, he was there as a graduate student, studying art. Now he lives in Altamont and works as a photographer for the University at Albany.

"For the next 35 years, I’ve been practicing," said Schmitt.

After he took up the fiddle, Schmitt, who played the guitar through high school, found out that fiddle picking was in his blood. In his native Illinois, Schmitt’s maternal grandfather had been a square-dance caller and his paternal grandfather had been a fiddle player himself.

The Stillhouse Rounders got together in 2000, he said. The group is a traditional composite of a string band, with Michael Fleck on the banjo, Geoff Harden on base, David Ziegler on guitar, and Schmitt playing the fiddle.

The traditional music that they play has influences from all over the world, said Schmitt; the fiddle brings an Irish influence and the banjo came from African culture, he said. Bluegrass itself grew out of Appalachian music in the late 1930s, said Schmitt, and it isn’t learned by reading; it’s learned by ear.

Schmitt’s 8-year-old son is starting to catch on himself, he’ll be playing on his spoons as his father fiddles. "I’ll be playing my cat paws," Dylan said, as he picked up his wooden instrument, the color of brown sugar, and played a tune.

Other offerings

More than 30 performers are scheduled to play over the three day festival. Musicians will be coming to the Altamont fairgrounds, off Route 146 in Guilderland, from as far as Mali and Ireland.

Some of the musicians will also be teaching classes during the festival and there is an instrument exchange planned. Among the performers and food vendors, there will be puppet shows and jugglers.

Ticket prices range from $30 for a single daytime or evening ticket to $115 for all-festival tickets that include camping at the fairgrounds.

Altamont hearing
Subdividing modernized

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — With some minor changes after public input, the proposed subdivision regulations for Altamont are set to be adopted by the village board on July 3.

A public hearing on the regulations drew about 10 residents to village hall on Tuesday night.

"We primarily modernized the language and the procedures," said Trustee Dean Whalen at the start of the hearing. Whalen, an architect, is the chairman of the comprehensive planning committee, which drafted the new regulations.

Trustee William Aylward started off the public-comment session with a question about keyhole lots, which are not explicitly discussed in the document. Whalen answered that keyhole lots were addressed in the zoning regulations that the planning committee is currently drafting, a more appropriate place for them to be, he said. Later, the board agreed to insert a sentence into the subdivision regulations referring readers to the zoning regulations regarding keyhole lots.

Steve Parachini, who serves on the planning committee, read a letter from Melanie Jakway, who could not be at the hearing. She was concerned about the tree requirements listed in the major subdivisions section.

"Sidewalks shall be separated from the street edges or curbs by a planting strip three to six feet wide and planted with shade trees," it says.

Her concern was that the trees might get in the way of snow removal. The board decided to change the tree requirement to the other side of the sidewalk, so the trees would not interfere with the roadway.

Local developer Troy Miller addressed the board regarding the 20-foot setback required of garages. "Not every house is large enough" to accommodate that kind of a setback, he said. "You don’t want to force people to build a house larger than they can afford."

Whalen conceded that a setback proportional to the size of the house might be appropriate, but he wanted to discuss it with the committee before making the change. When the committee has made a decision, he will print it in The Enterprise, before the July 3 village board meeting, he said.

After Danny Ramirez mentioned his concern over where heating and cooling vents and other equipment of that sort could be placed, the board agreed that the regulations should encourage developers to place those devices towards the back of houses.

Most of the changes to the regulations will be corrections of minor typographical errors. The board, after consulting with the village’s lawyer, Guy Roemer, decided that none of the suggested changes were substantive enough to warrant another public hearing.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the village board:

— Held an executive session on Tuesday night to discuss current litigation regarding the Fisher family;

— Voted unanimously to approve Jean Forti as a volunteer swimming instructor at the village pool and authorized village Clerk Jean LaCrosse to hire a booth attendant at the village’s Bozenkill park at a cost of $7.50 per hour;

— Praised The Spotlight for its front-page story on Altamont’s farmers’ market. The board also distributed copies of the story before the meeting;

— Heard from Bill Hoogkamp that the Altamont Fire Department is running out of space in its current building. He would like to meet with board members to discuss expanding, he said;

— Voted unanimously to participate in the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association parade on June 23;

— Voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the Senior Citizens Tax Exemption Law on July 3 at p.m. at village hall;

— Voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on July 3 at 8:15 p.m. at Village Hall on the purchase of a $107,000 dump truck and snowplow;

— Voted unanimously to authorize Mayor James Gaughan to support the application of the Altamont Free Library for a grant that would help convert the old train station into a new library building;

— Voted unanimously to appoint Gaughan to represent Altamont on the Albany County Municipal Services Board; the board will have one member from each of Albany’s municipalities who will work on sharing services;

— Voted unanimously to authorize LaCrosse to hire these part-time seasonal employees for Bozenkill Park: Adriene Bush, camp director; Colleen Moller and Katie Moller, co-managers; Aubrey Seppa, Kyle McCormick, Tuesday Breitenbach, Lindsey Heacock, Elizabeth Heacock, Amanda Heacock, John Sands, Zach Appio, and Caitlin Willsey, as lifeguards. They will each make between $8 and $14.42 per hour; and

— Voted unanimously to accept Jordan Jakway’s application for membership in the Altamont Fire Department.

A day in the life
Rescue work is more than a job

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — Warren Quinn was one of the first people on the scene after a boy was hit while skateboarding on a country road. He wanted to help, but didn’t know what to do.

That was 20 years ago. Now, Quinn is on the Altamont Rescue Squad; he joined soon after the accident.

Altamont’s rescue squad is one of the oldest in the state, said Bob Casey; it started out as an extension of the fire department. For a period, the squad used a hearse for its ambulance. Its picture hangs on the wall in the rescue building with photos of other ambulances of the past.

I had plenty of time to look at the picture and absorb the squad’s history when I spent a 12-hour shift last Thursday with a crew of volunteers and paid workers.

The days of makeshift ambulances are gone, now, the squad has two well-equipped vehicles to use.

"It’s a portable hospital," said Norman Bauman, a volunteer with the squad, as we rode in the back of the ambulance.

The Altamont squad is a basic life support service, BLS. "We just got permission to carry aspirin," said Bauman.

Members of the squad are required to go to lectures in order to keep their credentials current, Bauman said. Last Thursday, a handful of members attended a lecture on strokes that was given at the Guilderland Town Hall.

Like typical students, these grown men didn’t sit in the front row, but brought chairs to the back before sitting down to learn about the brain. Once underway, they chimed in with tales from the field and answered questions from lecturer Jonathan Halpert.

It’s hard to leave the things that happen on a shift at work, said Kevin Dunnells, who has been on the Altamont squad for several years. "It’s hard not to take it home with you." He once had a call for a four-month-old baby who ended up dying of cardiac arrest; his own daughter was 1 year old at the time.

Working as an emergency medical technician, an EMT, can also be hard on a marriage, he said. An Altamont Rescue Squad shift is 12 hours, from six to six.

"I’ve heard that EMS breaks up marriages," he said. "When you spend 12 hours a day with someone, things can happen." He quipped that EMS could stand for Extra-Marital Sex.

Dunnells is married to another EMS worker, and he has tattoos, one on each arm, with his children’s names.

Many calls come in, he said, because people are looking for companionship. "I remember when I started, the calls on the holidays," he said. "People were just lonely."

One call came in during the 12 hours that I was riding with the squad. Around 2 a.m. a woman called in a non-emergency situation. Bauman, Dunnells, and Dante Smith, dutifully got out of bed, put their shoes on, and took the woman to the hospital.

They are a group of people who are ready to help, but, Dunnells said, if there were a service that people could call and talk to someone for 20 minutes, half of the people wouldn’t end up going to the hospital.

"It’s depressing," said a paramedic, of some of the patients he’s met. "You go into environments that you never normally would."

Despite some of the situations they encounter, the rescue workers are a group of people who take pride in what they do.

Sitting on the back of the ambulance after bringing the woman to the hospital, Bauman said with satisfaction in his voice, "While everyone else is sleeping, here we are at two in the morning, working."

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