Hometown Heroes in EMS
Town of Plympton Call Firefighter and Brewster Ambulance Service Plymouth Paramedic Paul Skarinka served as a Corporal in the US Army. Eight months into his first tour of duty, he was critically injured when his unit came under enemy fire while on a mission in Sadr City just outside of Baghdad on September 13, 2004. Paul suffered a severed artery and serious damage to his left arm and leg in a rocket-propelled grenade explosion. He was transported from Iraq to Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, where he underwent 22 surgeries. The rehabilitation process was long, painful, and included amputation of his left leg below the knee and partial amputation of his left arm.
The following is from an August 2017 interview with Paul who was recently the recipient of a new ADA-compliant home built by The Home Depot Foundation and Jared Allen's Homes For Wounded Warriors and to be featured in a documentary about the build and his heroes story.
Q: How did you get into EMS?
PS: I came onto Brewster Ambulance as a paramedic. I worked for EasCare when I got my license again, because I had it before way back when before I left for the US Army, and I got out of the US Army, I did a desk job and wasn't a fan of it. I still worked at Whitman as a call fireman, so I went back to the VA and got financial aid to go back to EMT school and paramedic school again. It was a lot easier this time, mainly because I was a little more wiser and more grown up.
I worked for EasCare for almost 4 years. I heard that Brewster was hiring, and they were closer to Bridgewater where I lived. I wasn't a big fan of commuting to Dorchester, so I interviewed for Brewster as a paramedic. I told them I lived in Bridgewater and if I could work in Plymouth, that would be great, and luckily it worked out. I started in Plymouth in the fall of 2013, and work primarily out of Pine Hills station 3.
I got to know all of the group of guys that work at both fire stations and the others too, and I really enjoyed it, especially working with the firefighters on difficult calls, and I felt like it was a little more like home working in Plymouth.
Q: What was your firefighter background and experience?
PS: In Whitman, I was an full time call and volunteer firefighter. I left in 2011 because we bought a house in Bridgewater and I no longer had my Whitman residency—I had almost 12 years there. It was a tough decision. I worked EMS for a year or two, and then started over at Plympton, next to Carver and Middleboro. Very small town and department, all volunteer. So that was definitely a little bit different from what I'm used to, not as busy. They do about 600-700 calls a year, compared to more than 4,000 at Whitman. But that wasn't a bad thing. Especially since I still had issues with my injuries from the Army, so I'm still in the game, but just not as busy.
Chief Borsari at Plympton had no issues. I told him, "I'm a little bit slower because of my injuries," and he had no problem with that. In fact, he could care less about that. He was more interested in the 12 years I spent at Whitman because that was a lot of experience that he wanted in the department. So I started working there. I'm still doing firefighter work in Plympton, it's mostly just call. I'll pick up a shift here and there if they're in a jam or do call-backs, for either working fire or for manpower. Summertime I don't work as much because I have the kids, so but once Noah goes back to school, I kind of pick up more hours there and at Brewster as well.
Q: What kind of things do you do with your kids?
PS: We have a drive on sticker for Duxbury Beach. My mom watches my niece, so we'll go to the zoo. Or go to the aquarium. My mom is a retired teacher, so she uses her teacher pass to do fun stuff with the kids, like arts and crafts. For me, I'll take Noah 9, Lilly is 3.5 and she just likes to do what her big brother does. Sometimes I'll take the kids fishing in Whitman, or to a state park in Abington, and also bring the dogs because they like to swim.
Q: What do you enjoy about Being a firefighter?
PS: I like the whole idea of it; it's a brotherhood. You eat and sleep together, you spend a lot of time together working at the firehouse, you are able to create great friendships and bonds and it's a family. When you go on easy calls, it's no sweat, but if it's a tough call, you're able to rely on each other. Even if it is tough, like a fatal car accident or cardiac arrest, you're able to lean on each other for support. You all experience the same thing, no one goes it alone, per se, so you trust each other like your family and you trust each other with your lives. It's a unique work and life experience. You can't get that anywhere else, working in an office or something like that. You kind of learn and grow together emotionally and through life doing all of these different types of calls. It's something I really connected with and something I really enjoyed, and that's why I never really left the field, no day is the same. Every day is different. It could be busy, slow, but the calls aren't the same.
Q: How has your US Army training/experience come into play with your EMS work?
PS: It's not as stressful [laughs]. I enjoy what I do. It sounds corny, but I do enjoy helping people. I'm good at it. I have a good bedside manner, I try to listen as much as possible. Doing these calls—even the tough ones—I'm not getting shot at, I don't have people trying to blow me up. I don't try to make my partner or anyone feel uncomfortable or diminish their reaction to a critical situation, because people have not had the experience I've had. It's also because of years doing this job that you know, you can kind of take it in stride a lot better and be a lot more calm even on the tough calls because of that experience. I tell my partner it was tough, but we rocked it. I'm open and willing to talk about it after. What we do for a living is not easy and it takes a special type of person to do what we do.
I think the only call I find stressful is dealing with kids. Even when I didn't have kids, I didn't quite get it, but now that I have kids, I absolutely get it. If you ask anyone in Plymouth, it'll be kids. And its because I have that personal connection with kids I have kids, many of us have kids. You can't assess them as well as an adult because they are kids, and they don't get it. I can think of my kids or my partner's kids. The guys at the firehouse and the police department are awesome. Especially when it comes to a call that involves children or something of that nature. Everyone puts their best foot forward and steps up and that they get the best care and that they are calming to the kids. We'll get there and usually the fire department and the police department are there first, and they are incredible. They're so professional and they do a great job and they make our job a lot easier at times.
Q: Tell us more about your EMS work with Brewster and EasCare.
PS: I had a great relationship with everyone at EasCare. I left EasCare because I didn't want to commute anymore and I had the kids, and I needed to be a little closer to home, because my wife works in Boston. I wanted to get back into doing more 9-1-1 work. I was doing a lot of transports, and I did some emergency calls at EasCare. I learned a lot about transfer calls and running a ton of medication. I learned a lot working on the medical transfer calls. It makes you think and tests you, and I learned a lot about diagnosing patients on calls and running a lot of medication, chest tubes, intubated patients and patients on vents and that's difficult. You have to be very knowledgable about certain illnesses and medications and you need to know your protocols. It tests how much you know.
EasCare was great when it came to that stuff and teaching it. I learned a lot and it made me a better paramedic and having the chance to do those types of calls. I also learned a lot from my fellow employees, my supervisors and training officers. It helped a lot when I started working in Plymouth and doing the 9-1-1 calls. Doing it on a regular basis made me a better clinician. I didn't just jump to certain things. You need to take in the whole picture, all of the information and not overthink it. Certain things stick out from what the patient is telling you, or what their family is telling you, and you really do work on diagnosing and reading the information and how the patient presents, so it made me a better paramedic. When I started, we were still doing P13 or A3, the Pine Hills truck, half 9-1-1, half transfer, and I worked that truck a lot, and A2 as well, and it was a smooth transition over to Brewster. They had some different vents, but the pumps were the same and it made it easier when I started. So it was a matter of getting used to working in the Plymouth system and adjusting to protocol changes. I enjoyed it. I like being challenged, and if I hear about a new disease, I like looking it up and learning about it. It's interesting. It's a great system to work.
Q: What are you noticing about Brewster Ambulance as a company that you like?
PS: The training. One of the things I really like is how a lot of their training is really great, it's top notch. The CMTI training is run really well and the training is awesome. Brewster does a great job of offering all of the continuing education if you need it. I love the education aspect of it. I think how they work closely with the fire departments and police departments on continuing education, CPR, or Narcan administration, or keeping up for the guys who do have their EMT licenses, some of the guys are paramedics, and I've worked with some of them in Plympton and were firefighters in Plymouth. They do a great job keeping everyone on the up and up with protocol changes or new things we're introducing in the field if it's a different type of equipment or protocol changes for cardiac arrest or shortness of breath, they're very involved. They're also involved with the communities in general, they do a lot of free education which is great and it's a huge help and every once in a while you get a call where someone took a free class with Brewster and they tell us and want to help out. We appreciate that they take advantage of it, and it's great to hear. The supervisors that run the education department do a great job.
Transitions are also not easy, and the way they handle transitioning a town from their old provider to Brewster, it's not easy, I've been doing this over 15 years, and transitioning while taking over new contracts and stuff is not easy, and I'm sure it's difficult transition for Brewster. Especially when some of the towns who have had one provider for a long time, Brewster goes out of their way to make it is as smooth as possible and welcomes working with employees transitioning from the other company to Brewster. Honestly, they do anything to make that employee's transition smoother. Mark's a great guy; all of them are. I've talked to Mark when I've had issues, especially when I went through having my leg amputated. I remember talking to Mark at the Christmas party, and because we'd never really met face to face, I went up to him and said, "Hey, thank you for working with me," and he said "No problem, Paul, we'd do anything for you." I just wanted to say hi, thank him, and it was one less things to stress out about. I wanted him to know I appreciated everything they were doing as a company. They have a great open door policy and you can tell them what's going on, and are very willing to work with you. They really do a great job keeping the trucks up, our uniforms and all that because we do go through shirts a lot. They are really stepping up their game as a company since I've been there and it's great progress. They still keep it like a family. Even if they don't know who you are, they know who you are.
Q: Tell us about the documentary being filmed regarding your house project.
PS: The Home Depot Foundation and Jared Allen's Homes For Wounded Warriors decided to do a documentary on the house that they awarded my family. They were looking for a vet whose house was going to be starting soon or in the process of being built, and they heard the story about what happened to me at a benefit for me the beginning of last year and were taken by it and they said, "We have to meet Paul." The documentary started this summer. It worked out, and they are great people, very easy going. I was in charge of the show, and anything I didn't feel comfortable with they didn't do it. It was about me. Once we break ground in September, they're going to show up periodically and follow up with interviews and film the house being built. This documentary is going to be used for future fundraisers so they can show people how the Foundation helps the vet community. They talk about the house the vet was living in, the issues that arose and how it was more challenging being disabled, not having ADA house, and they explain how they helped the vet and their family, demonstrating that this is what the donor's funds go to and what they have a passion for. They are great. It's gonna help bring in more money so they can continue funding and building these ADA homes and making appropriate renovations for the vet's disability.
Hopefully we'll be moving in by the beginning of 2018, as long as there are no hiccups during construction, and like I said, the entire Jared Allen organization is amazing. Jared said, "Paul, you're family now. Anything you and your family needs, just reach out to us." I wanted to do the documentary because I knew it was going to help more disabled vets down the line like me and bring in more money. They get a lot of money through The Home Depot Foundation, Gary Sinise Foundation and Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, three of the the major foundations that The Home Depot Foundation invests in as well as others. But those are for the veteran community and they are all are very passionate about it.
Want more information?
Additional reading resources regarding Paul's story and links to organizations mentioned in this interview:
- Jared Allen's Homes For Wounded Warriors
- The Home Depot Foundation
- Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation
- Gary Sinise Foundation
- Boston 25 News article: "Hundreds gather to support Whitman veteran injured in Iraq"
- The Patriot Ledger article: "SOLDIER’S STORY: Whitman soldier recalls Iraq firefight that left his body shattered"
- The Enterprise article: "SOLDIER’S STORY: Paul Skarinka’s long road to recovery"
- The Enterprise article: "Iraq War veteran makes tough call to have his leg amputated"
- The Milford Daily News 3-part series articles: "Soldier’s story series"