MONROE, CT — Volunteers of the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service are on call around the clock, responding to all kinds of medical emergencies, including heart attacks and strokes, as well as treating drivers and passengers involved in motor vehicle crashes before taking those in serious condition to the hospital.
Several of these unheralded hometown heroes received recognition at the MVEMS’s annual Membership Appreciation Dinner at Monroe Social last Saturday evening.
“We often talk about EMS being a family and it was great to celebrate together,” Monroe EMS Chief Craig Rosenberg said during an interview at the MVEMS headquarters Wednesday night. “And we want to thank the families of our members, because their support is so critical.”
“I’m really appreciative of all our members, especially those who contributed significantly,” said Deputy EMS Chief Rachel Murphy, “and we’re sad to see some members retiring, but they’ll always be vital members of our community.”
First Selectman Terry Rooney was among the close to 40 guests attending the dinner.
“The EMS runs 24/7. It’s a 24/7 operation. When people are sleeping, when people are comfortable at home, they’re out there doing what they have to do to help every citizen of this town,” Rooney said in a telephone interview Thursday.
“What most people, who have never contributed their time to emergency medical services don’t understand, is you see everyday people at their worst,” Rooney said.
Even after seeing the aftermath of a horrific car crash and other bad accidents and medical tragedies, Rooney said these same volunteers still continue to serve their community.
Two longtime EMS volunteers who recently retired, John Brenna and Bob Zawatski, received plaques in appreciation of their service, and current member, Joan Grosso, was recognized for her 30 years of service.
The organization also expressed its gratitude to three volunteers serving the most hours. Receiving certificates were: Joe Samonek, who volunteered 915 hours in 2023; Shawn Smith who volunteered 897 hours, and Isabella Medaris who volunteered 685 hours.
A family affair
John Brenna’s late wife Marge encouraged him to join her as a Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service member for five years, before he finally took the plunge in 2004.
“Working with my wife was an excellent experience,” Brenna recalled. “I kind of entered her world and enjoyed it.”
Serving on the EMS became a family affair, as the couple participated on many shifts with their son David, who was an emergency medical technician (EMT) for five years. Marge and John Brenna combined to serve the town for over 50 years.
Marge served the EMS for nearly 32 years, was a captain, a trainer and training chairperson.
John Brenna served for 19 years as an EMT, as a member of the executive board, as an EMS Commission member for 10 years (seven as chairman), and was a member of the EMS Building Committee for six years.
“I took the course at age 58,” said Brenna, who is now 77. “It’s never too late to join a service like this and make a difference. I encourage anyone at any age to seriously consider becoming a member of the Monroe Volunteer Emergency Medical Service, including family members. It does keep you young at heart.”
“We’re really thankful for what John brought to the community. We wanted to recognize him,” Rosenberg said. “He’s retired from both the EMS and the EMS Commission. We were proud to recognize him. John had a huge impact on the patients he’s treated and also the service, providing guidance on the commission.”
Brenna said he enjoyed working on patients in back of the ambulance the most, providing treatment and comfort on their way to the hospital. He also said he will miss his fellow volunteers.
Bob Zawatski was a member of the MVEMS since 2010, volunteering as an EMT and as a member of the organization’s executive board.
“He was one of the members who responded with us to Sandy Hook,” Rosenberg said of the tragic elementary school shooting in 2012. “Bob is someone I worked on a lot of shifts with. He’s an excellent EMT. He would be the person who would come out at all hours to respond to calls, and he helped us run the service on the executive board.”
Of Joan Grosso, Rosenberg said, “she is a phenomenal EMT and such a key member today for our service.”
An exit strategy
“I felt this was the right time for me,” Brenna said of retiring. “Since I spent time with my wife and served on the building committee … I wanted to see the building project complete before going. It was a good exit strategy for me.”
Brenna praised Rooney for his role as chairman of the building committee, which oversaw the project for the renovation and addition of the EMS headquarters on Jockey Hollow Road.
“He was an excellent leader on the building committee, which allowed us to construct the building on schedule and within budget,” Brenna said.
“It was difficult during COVID, while keeping us operating,” Rosenberg said, recalling how EMS members worked out of a trailer at one time, before the building was partially opened during construction.
“I just really admire anybody who volunteers their time, especially in a 24/7 operation,” Rooney said. “It’s hard enough to get people to do things for money these days. I was happy to volunteer. They volunteer their time. The least we could do is give them a great environment.”
“I can’t say enough about the EMS staff and Craig,” Rooney said of Rosenberg. “He’s just a high quality human being, who has the best interest of everybody in mind. I can’t say enough about how much he cares for the citizens of the town and carries himself with humility. I highly respect him.”
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