If disaster strikes, Jamaica Plain will be prepared, courtesy of an unmarked brick building at 85 Bragdon St.: the Boston Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Special Operations garage.
EMS has three branches, Special Operations Division Capt. Robert Haley told the Gazette on a recent visit: the emergency medical technicians (EMTs)—aka the Field Division—who drive ambulances and provide emergency care; the dispatchers who answer 911 calls and provide over-the-phone instructions that may keep someone alive until EMTs get there; and Special Ops, who do everything else.
“We’re a safety net. People invite us into their homes when they’re at their worst,” Haley said during a Gazette visit to the garage last week.
Part of that mission is being prepared for every eventuality, from common falls and heart attacks to, say, a difficult birth during a sniper attack following a hurricane.
On any given day, most of the Special Ops garage’s equipment is in its place, unused. There are many medical tents for outdoor events, with a back-up tent and equipment in every kit. Emergency bicycles and carts are available for situations where space is too tight for an ambulance, and moving trucks are ready for hauling gear.
A 140-foot radio tower capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds is ready for police, fire, city and EMS frequencies. And there’s “The Bear,” an armored emergency vehicle with bulletproof, 7/8-inch-thick glass windows, a rifle mount of the roof and gun ports along both sides.
The garage even has an emergency command center, with dozens of computers, phones and a podium. It’s one of such five in the city, along with other locations at City Hall and the headquarters of the police, fire and EMS departments.
“It’s a lot of toys. It’s a necessary evil,” Haley said. “It’s all here in case we ever need it.”
“As long as [the emergency medical technician] has a radio, we can do a lot of work” before the patient reaches an ambulance or a hospital, he said. “The primary mission is to get a guy to you to keep you alive.”
“It’s not easy to get around Boston,” he continued. The 48-square-mile city is full of small streets, tight bends and inaccessible places, which is where the motorized carts and bicycles come in handy.
As for The Bear, it was purchased in the 1990s, and has never been used by EMS outside of drills. Boston Police SWAT is the only other agency that can use it.
The Bear used to live in an outdoor garage in Roxbury, but had to be moved to the Bragdon building, Haley said, because when it snowed, “six guys had to go at it with pickaxes” to get the ice off the windows.
“The defroster didn’t do anything” on the thick glass, he explained.
Boston is unofficially split in two for EMS purposes, with Massachusetts Avenue as the dividing line. There is another garage, similarly equipped to the Bragdon garage, on the other side of Mass Ave.
“We do a lot in duplicate, so we can back the other side up,” Haley said.
And Haley is happy with their quiet JP home.
“We’ve been here for 15 years. The only thing that’s ever happened was one of our windows cracked by some kids playing ball” some years ago, Haley said. “We love it here. The people are good to us here.”
Local EMS ambulances are based at the E-13 Police Station on Washington Street, but the Special Ops garage is among the locations that EMTs use for pit stops.
EMT partners Andrea Amuzzini and Kelly Cronin patrol the JP area in their ambulance and stopped by the garage during the Gazette visit.
Patrolling works better than sitting in a garage, they said, because they can usually reach a destination faster. On the odd chance that they would take too long to reach someone, an ambulance from a neighboring district would come in.
As for the most traumatic thing the duo has had to deal with, they quickly say it’s not physical injuries—that, they are trained to deal with and they know “how to fix it.”
“It’s the neglect of elders, or the abuse of a child,” Cronin said.
“Those are the things that affect you, that stay with you,” Amuzzini added.
“You can never have a pattern for what to expect” on any given day, Cronin said. “I like helping people. It’s the one thing that has always made me feel good at the end of the day.”
Amuzzini said that after working for the IRS for several years, when it came time to return to the workforce after staying at home with her kids, she “wanted to do something with a bit more meaning.”
“At the end of the day, it opens your eyes to what’s going on out there,” she said, noting that it makes her appreciate what she has in life much more.