“The golden hour in which a life can be saved is often a golden minute.”

The Suffolk County Police Department has a specialized emergency medical team that responds to medical crisis/disasters whenever and wherever they may arrive. The Medical Action Crisis Team, dubbed MedCAT, was the brainchild of Dr. Scott Coyne, Chief Surgeon and Medical Director of the Suffolk Police Department. The concept of a medical version of a SWAT team came to him in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

“In the case of a catastrophe, we now have a team ready to go,” said Dr. Coyne.

image6The “team” consists of four volunteer physicians (trained surgeons) and 15 Suffolk County police officers who are certified paramedics or critical care EMTs. All the officers are all recruited from the department’s high-risk specialized units.

These officers can be and have been the difference between life and death. That is the simple and monumental truth.

“I realized that by the time the feds or the state get here with their teams, it could be too late,” Coyne said of a potential disaster scenario and again reminds us, “the golden hour in which a life can be saved is often a gold- en minute.”

The Suffolk County police officers on the team do so voluntarily. They are not compensated additionally for being a part of the MedCAT team. They continue performing their regular police jobs but are prepared at a moment’s notice to respond to mass-casualty events, such as airplane crashes, hurricanes and tornadoes, bombings or bio-terrorism attacks, school threat incidents or hostage rescues.

image2The SCPD strategically places five of the 15 police officer members on Fire Island, where there are no hospitals. The MedCAT team members are a welcome addition as the ability for paramedics and other person- nel to respond to emergencies on the beach in a timely manner remains a serious concern for many Fire Islanders.

“In all emergency incidences, especially in remote areas, it is comforting to know that any member of the MedCAT team can arrive at the site of an accident to provide immediate assistance whether hospitals are nearby or not,” said Suffolk County Officer Dennis Hendrickson.

Hendrickson was hired by the Nassau County Police Department’s Emergency Ambulance Bureau in 1990, where he worked for 16 years as a paramedic. He was hired by the SCPD in September 2006 and seized the opportunity to join the elite members of the MedCAT team. Officer Hendrickson lives in Manor- ville with his wife and three boys, where he is also a Commissioner of the Fire Department.

“We consider this responsibility our community service, our volunteer work, outside of our daily police jobs,” said Tom LaFemina, a Fourth precinct officer and MedCAT volunteer member. Officer LaFemina is featured in this issue’s Double Duty article because of his service to our country as well. However, LaFemina pointed out “every one of the 15 officers who serve on the MedCAT team are also double duty heroes.”

While being a member of the MedCAT team is extremely rewarding for the officers, it is a huge undertaking and often a sacrifice. At any time, day or night, the team can be called to a scene of an emergency situation. “You don’t say no when you get a call, you are always on call,” says Officer Hendrickson.

“We are a group of people who put in time – all the train- ing that took years to get us where we are – it doesn’t come without cost and sacrifice and it doesn’t always get recognized,” added Officer Arnold Reyes.

Hendrickson is just one example. After being hit by a car at the scene of an accident he tore out his shoulder. He underwent surgery in August and was told that it was never going to get better. Thankfully, he is now in week six of recovery after an operation to rebuild his entire shoulder. With disciplined rehabilitation, he expects to be back on the job in a couple of months.

The MedCAT team is constantly in training to enhance their skills and still operates under the direction of Dr. Coyne. The team has a national best practice policy that other police departments across the country are looking to replicate. Dr. Coyne provides trainings all over the country and the International Chiefs have reached out to ask the Suffolk County MedCAT team to provide active training for their Chiefs.

“He [Dr Coyne] is truly a tremendous asset and does not get much recognition,” said Officer Hendrickson. Over the years, Dr. Coyne has known all the Commissioners and Chiefs of Police and has been honored by the SCPD as an Honorary Two-Star Chief.

Dr. Coyne and the MedCAT officers also train our recruits on standard medical procedures that could save some- one’s life while waiting for the MedCAT team to arrive.

“There is no way to measure the value of the volunteer services our team provides,” said Hendrickson “unless you are the family or friend of a loved one whose life we just saved.”

If there is an emergency, such as a child not breath- ing and it is patched through to the fire department, the MedCAT is able to provide assistance, sometimes get- ting to the scene first to help when it is needed most. “Advanced Life Support can be established in a few minutes because a MedCAT guy may be less than 2 minutes away.”

image3The MedCAT team has seen it all — from delivering babies in a car, to providing on-the-spot medical attention for severe head injuries.

There are countless life-saving stories attributable to this impressive team: the infant who went into cardiac arrest and was saved by a police officer MedCAT team member who was in West Islip and able to arrive on the scene in time; the remarkable story of Officer Nick

Gerrara — one Suffolk County police’s very own — who while on duty was critically injured with a one in three chance of surviving. The fast thinking and actions of the MedCAT team resulted in the Officer’s full recovery. Regardless of the situation, the officers are there, providing hands-on assistance and saving countless lives.

Being a MedCAT member is certainly not an easy job, but as the officers see it, nothing rewarding ever is. And what’s more rewarding than saving lives in the community they are committed to serving?

image4This is a commitment above and beyond a police officers’ call of duty. These officers are not paid for or receive additional benefits for the training they undertake or the service that they provide.

“You cannot put a monetary value on a life, says Officer Hendrickson. I speak for all of the MedCAT officers when I say – we are honored to serve in this capacity.”

Every day, people are in crisis — whether it’s some- one with shortness of breath or an elderly person with dementia — MedCAT offers their services and advanced training to save lives. Thank you for your sacrifice and commitment to all Suffolk residents.