by Tyler Molleur
HARDWICK – The last time members of the Hardwick Rescue Squad (HRS) gathered to celebrate their work and thank their family members was in 2019.
As roughly 50 volunteers and their families assembled at Atkins Field on Wednesday night, appreciation was extended to crew members who helped their communities and the organization tackle a challenging year.
Providing member appreciation in 2020 was challenging as gatherings, such as a picnic, yielded to state restrictions on public assemblies. The volunteer force of certified EMS professionals and drivers who assist in patient care temporarily dropped by nearly a dozen members, but the shortage also highlighted the exceptional dedication of a select few.
The awards presented at the membership appreciation picnic included the Vermont EMS Basic Life Support Provider of the Year Award, given to Matt Pietryka of Hardwick. Pietryka has been a member of the rescue squad since 2016. Vermont EMS Chief Will Moran attended the picnic to present Pietryka with the award and speak of the numerous nominations his office received for the five-year member of the ambulance service.
“Matt stood out from his peers throughout the state,” Moran said as he discussed the process of reviewing the nominations. “(He’s) selfless, committed, puts community before self: an effective team member who raises up those around him.”
“We hope the younger generation gets to mentor under him.”
Hardwick Rescue President Lindsay O’Steen presented Pietryka with an engraved stethoscope. Pietryka grew up in the Randolph area. A graduate of Randolph High School, he went on to study at Vermont Tech and Perdue University to start his career as a land surveyor. He studied at Southern Oregon University to get a master’s degree and teach. For several years, he worked at Hazen Union School as a middle school math teacher.
Pietryka says he was looking for something to do in retirement and just happened to stumble upon a flyer for an EMT class.
“Knowing the people on the squad is a great thing. All these people are people who are doing something for the benefit of the community,” he said. “You genuinely are providing a necessary service. It feels like a worthwhile thing to do.”
Of the family members on hand for the presentation of Pietryka’s award were his parents, Napoleon and Agnes. The couple has been married for over 70 years and received a dedication in the 2018 Randolph Town Report for their service as educators and long-standing history of volunteerism.
Pietryka is the second HRS provider to be recently recognized by the state for their dedication to the squad. In 2019, Hardwick resident Patty Meyer received the Vermont EMS Lifetime Award from the state in a ceremony at the Highland Center for the Arts.
A moment was taken at the picnic to recognize members of Hardwick Rescue who volunteer as drivers. O’Steen said that the rescue squad is rare in the sense that it recruits non-clinical drivers to supplement ambulance crews, allowing for two clinical staff to care for the patient in the back in many circumstances. That, she said, enhances the quality of patient care.
“It’s a luxury to have a driver,” said O’Steen. “We can’t do it without you.”
In the spring, clinical volunteers received compensation through the Vermont EMS Provider Stabilization Grant for their workload during the pandemic, but drivers were not eligible. As a thank you for their contributions, the squad’s board of directors chose to present five drivers with custom Yeti tumblers. These drivers spent the most time on the ambulance in the 15-month pandemic period. Among the drivers were Rob Alcusky (164 calls), Dean Hill (81 calls), Rick Sullivan (76 calls), Harry Besett (66 calls), and Derrick Tatro (54 calls).