EMS Paramedic Andrea Downs: Responding to the Community
Somehow Falls Village resident and paramedic Andrea Downs makes people feel energized and calm at the same time. With a capable enthusiasm, she tackles her career and her extensive volunteer work and performs them all to a high standard.
During her working hours--and there are many of them these days--she is the paramedic field supervisor for Northern Dutchess Paramedics (NDP) where she supervises over 45 staff across four stations that cover 1,200 square miles in northwest Connecticut, Dutchess County, and part of Columbia County.
As the field supervisor, Andrea works as a paramedic and oversees the operation and smooth running of the stations in her command. She guides and teaches her employees, provides them with feedback, and ensures they have the supplies they need to do their job.
COVID-19 has added many new wrinkles to a job that depends on timing and prompt response. “Every call takes more time. Dispatch has a question protocol, as do the ambulance team. Only one crew member can go in to screen for COVID. If positive, the crew must use PPE accordingly.” Andrea continues, “We then need to notify the hospital so they can begin their protocol. Afterward, we decontaminate the ambulance at the hospital and again at the station. It adds over an hour to our call.”
Andrea has been with NDP for 16 years as a paramedic and four as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Concurrently, she’s a volunteer with the Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department as an EMT, the level to which the department is certified to operate.
Andrea reels off three reasons why she loves her job as a first responder. “I love interfacing with the ambulance and fire service volunteers in the towns we cover. About 25 percent of the calls require a higher level of care. That’s when I’m called in as a paramedic to intercept and provide medical assistance.” Her second and third reasons are related, “I love my patients. I meet the greatest people. And I love my co-workers. I work with people who are passionate about their job, passionate about helping people.”
She is unflappable and compassionate in her role, sometimes admitting that the outcome of events is beyond her control. “Sometimes I’m there at the end of life. I’m honored to be there to comfort them.”
When not answering emergency calls, Andrea is a volunteer area team chair for AFS high school foreign exchange program. Her territory is once again widespread. She covers western Massachusetts and most of Connecticut, supporting host families and students. “I offer support and guidance to my team of volunteers, help them set and meet standards, and make sure the international students--all 23 of them in 2019 (10 students from the US went abroad)--are thriving in their host homes.
“This is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” delights Andrea, “I’m meeting kids from all over the world, who are away from their families for the first time, immersed in a new culture and traditions along with learning a new language. They’re enthusiastic and inquisitive. I get as much out of it as they do.” She jokes, “I’d much rather do something fun with my families than clean my house!”
Andrea and her husband Tim have hosted a student every year since their involvement began in 2009. “Kids who are not having a good experience with a host family come to our house to reset. If they have a problem they know I’ll fix it. I’ve earned the nickname of ‘the colonel’,” she laughs, “ because they know I can handle almost any emergency and I’ve got rules.”
Andrea’s dedication to this area includes service on the Kellogg School Board of Education for eight years, six of which were as the chair. Following that, she chaired all four years of her time on the Region One Board of Education. What did this fixer of people and problems enjoy the most about her time on these boards? “The budgets,” answers Andrea, “I love crunching the numbers. And I liked bringing programs to students that make a difference. It’s important work.”
Even though she’s no longer formally affiliated with Housatonic Valley Regional High School, she helps its Career Experience program arrange high-impact job shadows with students interested in a career as a first responder. In Dutchess County, she’s part of a team of speakers for the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education (CAPE), which brings together individuals from the law, insurance, emergency services, and victims’ families to speak with students about the importance of driving unimpaired.
Of her dedication to being a volunteer, Andrea responds, “I grew up with a model of volunteerism from my parents. Now, volunteerism is a lifestyle for our family. Tim and I, we just do it. It’s a way of life and our kids have adopted a similar path. We're committed to it and it’s something we value. For us, it’s about community.”