Q: What got you into EMS as a career?
SD: My sister was a nurse. I worked a bunch of dead-end jobs before I worked for the U.S. Post Office. Some people think working for the USPS is a great job and that was the way to go. I got hired as a temporary employee which meant they could let me go anytime. I worked 60-70 hours a week. The only days off we had were when the post office was closed. We could buy insurance, but we had to pay for it full price, and there was no 401K. I was working really hard for nothing, no future and I was like, that needs to end.
So without any knowledge whatsoever, I went into the medical field for two reasons. One, I had taken the police exam and if you're an EMT you get a couple more points on the police exam, as it raises you higher in the ranking. That was the main reason, but if that had fallen through, I figured, well, it's a medical field, there's stability there, you're always going to need EMTs and paramedics. That was really my motivation for it. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did once I got to school. I was fascinated learning about the human body and the things you could do and it hooked me in. I went into paramedicine school right from EMT school.
I didn't want to just be an EMT, I wanted to go as far as I could. I was really liking the material, I was learning a lot and really enjoying it and I wanted to keep going. That's what I did. I finished the course and passed my medic, got my certificate. but then you move on to clinicals and you do a lot of time in the hospital and ride on the ambulance and you have to do all of this stuff that has to eventually get signed off on and then you take the test. While I was in that portion of it, my father was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently passed away. It took a toll on me, and by the time I snapped out of it and put everything back together, it was too late, there was just no way I was going to be able to study and pass the test. I tried, but unfortunately I failed three times. They only give you three chances. It was too late for me to snap out of it. So you gotta wonder sometimes, does everything really happen for a reason. I do even have my diploma from paramedic school hanging up in my office here.
So while working and transitioning to paramedic school, I wanted to get a job working as an EMT to make sure I liked it, and I put in a couple of applications to a couple places, had a couple of interviews, but Brewster Ambulance Service was the first company that called me back and wanted to hire me. I think it was because they had a relationship with the school I went to at the time, which was CMTI, so Danny Thomas, who gave me my interview, immediately picked up the phone and reached out Keith Wilson who ran CMTI, to kind of feel him out on what he thought of me, and he said good things about me. I was driving home from the interview and as I pulled into my driveway at home, Danny Thomas was calling me to offer me a job based on the conversation he had with Keith Wilson so that was great.
When I met with Mark for my interview, Chris DiBona was there also. He was quiet and I think he was trying to figure me out. I came in for a few days for a trial period to work side by side with Chris on the new Zoll® CAD. They also needed a place to put me, so Chris moved his office around to make room for me and we became roommates for my first year in this position. Those were fun times and I consider Chris a good friend, mentor and a contributor to why I am where I am now.
Been with Brewster ever since. Never left, never quit, I did drop down to per diem at one point only because paramedic school got really intense, and I just needed the extra time for study. The whole time I've been an EMT, and in fact even before that when I worked at the post office, even prior to that, friends and family, anyone who knew me and knew I was a techie and that I was good with computers, always asked me why I wasn't working with computers, I'd always tell them, "It's an interest, it's a hobby, I'm good at it. I don't know why I didn't go into computers, to be quite honest."
It started out doing websites, that's really how it started out, I had my own servers for hosting, I got to mess around with Linux, PHP, Apache databases and that sort of stuff. I try not to do that specific type of IT anymore. I get prebuilt stuff now because I really don't have the time for it. So I started a side business. I ran a web hosting web design company, still kind of do, but I have less clients now, mainly friends of friends. I'm not losing money now, but it's mainly a hobby at this point.
When Brewster pursued purchasing CMTI, at that time I was doing some IT work for CMTI. I reached out to Keith and shared that I had an interest in beefing up their website and adding forums, online studying and stuff. He was welcome to the idea and so I helped set all that up, and he later called me up one day out of the blue and said, "Hey, my website designer is retiring, can you take over?" I said yes. It ended up being more than that. I also helped set up printers, worked on their computers—I was unofficially their official IT guy. There wasn't really enough work that I would consider it my job, I still had to have another job. It was a little extra money here and there, and it was fun to do, and I like doing that sort of stuff and also like to help friends. If I'm asked, I'm gonna say yes just because I like to do it and we're friends.
But somewhere down the line, Brewster and CMTI came together. Brewster bought CMTI and through one thing or another, my name got brought up by Keith to Mark. Prior to that, Brewster Ambulance always had an outside IT company, they were a lot smaller overall, and we've grown a lot since then. They wanted to get somebody in house to lighten the load of having to make phone calls if it was something super simple like passwords or hey my keyboard/mouse isn't working, someone who could be on-site and address these things immediately. Keith said, "Yeah, that guy works for you." Mark was like, "This guy works for me?"They had me come in for a meeting, and so I did. The meeting went well, they made me an offer, and I got off the ambulance and now I sit in a desk chair. As much as I did like being on the ambulance, I wouldn't go back. Not because of anything wrong with that job, but because I really like what I do now.
Q: How are you leveraging your medic training with the IT and clinical equipment used at Brewster Ambulance?
SD: That might be why I enjoy it still so much is that it's related—it's in the same field: medical. Some of what I do is working on the new CAD and ePCR system, which we have Zoll around here right now. We have to roll that out, as that's how all of the crew members do all their documentation. So when we built that out, I understood it. What an EMT does and what a paramedic does, it's helpful to know that when working in IT. It brings those two worlds together. I think that's one reason why I do so well here is and why also I still enjoy it.
Q: What are some of the other IT responsibilities you have at Brewster?
SD: Recently with the expansion I've been part of some really big projects, which I really couldn't have seen coming when I was first offered the position. Stuff that I would have been nervous about, but now I love that kind of stuff.
Perfect example was the build in Weymouth. When I first started in the IT position, we were still in 285 [Hyde Park location], and I think they'd just broken ground on Weymouth. We were talking about designing a network from the ground up, I mean, there was nothing here. They asked for my input for the most minuscule things, like how many internet drops would you put in each office, they handed me a marker and I walked around the building and there were no walls just studs and I was writing on the ground like, "Internet port here." I really got a sense of what was coming.
We have such a state of the art dispatch center downstairs, and I got to help build it. From hiring the AV guys to hang the TVs to decide how many monitors were going to be on every station and what kind we were going to buy, what do these need to be capable of, and really mapping everything out, even the documentation. As we built the dispatch center, labeling every port downstairs and where it went upstairs, just minuscule details that I really never saw that kind of stuff coming. I was certainly proud to be part of it, I consider this whole building to be my baby. I don't think people realize what goes into that. Like, the average EMT, if they understood what goes into the infrastructure to make that call show up on their board, on their little tablet in the ambulance, it's not magic. To make that happen and understand what went into it. And for me to be a part of every little detail of that, it does mean something to me and I'm proud of it.
Like, when you hire a new dispatcher, they walk into that building and sit down and they've got four monitors surrounding them, they probably feel like, "This is pretty cool," but I helped build that, I was part of making it happen and that makes me proud.
Q: How are you involved with setting up field equipment on the trucks?
SD: All of the ambulances have their own modems in them. We did that for a reason, instead of the computers themselves housing the internet, the internet is actually in the truck. That is important because some of the monitors connect to the truck Wi-Fi and the computer will connect to the Wi-Fi and they are an access point and communicate. We have remote access to all the machines. That's super important. Nine times out of ten we can fix the issue remotely, as opposed to making the truck come back.
When you talk about when you hook Alexa up to the Wi-Fi, and you try to talk to Alexa, well she needs to talk to the Amazon servers, which means from an IT perspective, we now have to figure out what IP addresses those servers use. We have to whitelist those IP addresses to the servers because we lock down certain IP addresses. When I first came on, they had each computer locked down by MAC address, which worked, but the problem was is that computer couldn't go anywhere. It wasn't easily inter-truck transferable. We wanted it to be so the ToughBooks could go into any truck and work. So it's no longer restricted by MAC address, in fact the crew members can get into the truck and connect their iPhone to the truck Wi-Fi if they wanted to. It will connect, but they'll find that they can't go anywhere because we only allow it to go to about four websites total, and Netflix isn't one of them.
Most of the stuff that the ToughBooks have to access are self-hosted here at Brewster. We do control those IP addresses, so we don't have as much of an issue there. Those IP addresses don't change, everything is static. The modems are limited to 20 IP addresses, so there's a finite amount we can allow this way. The good thing is that everything is self-hosted here at Brewster. Creates more work for the IT department, which is fine, but Zoll does offer to host things for you, but you have less control over it. I have a help desk set up for team members, PlanIT scheduling for punching in and out uses a static IP, we run our remote managing on there, it's like LogMeIn but it's not, it's something else. All IPs are whitelisted. As far as monitors go, we have a hodgepodge, and they pretty much connect to the machines locally via USB or Bluetooth.
Q: What is PlanIT and does it have to be customized?
SD: PlanIT is an out of the box solution, but we have a close relationship with the developers and they have done custom programming for us and they have customized PlanIT for us. For example, PlanIT out of the box didn't allow punching in and out by employees, they built that for us. We told them we wanted it, they built it into the system for us, and they even designed an application that we installed on the computers.
Q: What else do you enjoy about the IT work at Brewster Ambulance?
SD: Some of the things I enjoy doing is what I again didn't necessarily see when I started the job was I do a lot of manual labor too. We run CAT-5 cable, me and the maintenance guy will run a lot of cable for cameras and other things, and I'll do all the terminations Prior to this job I have now, I wasn't taking my own CAT-5 cable and cutting it and terminating it, so I learned how to do it on the fly. I spent my weekend watching YouTube® videos on TV learning how to do it and I bought a box of CAT-5 cable, bought all the tools I needed and sat there in my living room and practiced cutting, crimping, testing and that's how I figured it out. You have to enjoy what you do and I enjoy what I do that I'll practice it on the weekends, go out and get extra training that I don't already have. In past jobs, where it was like doing extra stuff was like torture. I don't want to do extra and my heart wasn't in it then like it is now.
I help do a lot of stuff like that. I help install all of the camera systems. But we're doing it as a security measure for the parking areas and the building. I help do a lot of that, which has helped me out of work too, now I've been toying with the idea of putting cameras at my house. I have helped set cameras up at the Brewster's personal homes. I like that they call me when they need me and trust me to do this stuff into their homes. I'm flattered that they trust me to do that.
I love the dynamics of it. I don't know what I'm going to be doing here day to day. There's always a new project in the pipeline. I come in and think I'm just gonna sit down at my desk and answer a couple of tickets and field a few phone calls from crew members and that's not how my day goes at all. I may get into my car and go to another base and next thing I'm on a ladder working on some wires it's so dynamic.
And then they always have big projects. They're always calling me into their office and say, "Hey, we bought another car dealership and we're gonna turn it into a huge location." But once you dive in you enjoy it and I love to be part of those things. The other thing besides it being dynamic, would be how much I get to learn every day. Whether someone is teaching me, or whether or not I'm learning on my own, reaching out to another IT person that I know saying, "Hey, have you ever encountered this before?" Even if I call Zoll and reach out to Zoll support help, I make a note of everything they do and save that file and add that to my folder for later now I have that in my bag of tricks.
Q: Any final thoughts?
SD: As far as the Brewsters go, they're great people overall. I don't quite know how to describe it—they are big, powerful people, but I feel like any one of them would give me the shirt off their back if I asked them. Mark, George, George Jr., all of them. I do consider them friends to be honest with you, at this point. They call it a family company and family environment, and you really do feel it.
As far as what I do when I'm not here, if I'm doing anything that gives me the most joy, I like to go out on the boat on the lake and float around and have a couple drinks and hang out with my friends.