St. Louis first responders honored during EMS week

ST. LOUIS – SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital honored more than 200 first responders with Hendricks BBQ in Tower Grove Park to kick off the week of rescue service.

“There aren’t many reasons why you wouldn’t want to celebrate them,” said Helen Sandkuhl, SSM Health EMS ‘administrative director. “You work so hard every day.”

The annual celebration will take place May 16-22, but was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. It was during this time that first responders probably needed the celebration the most and applauded the most.

“We were very sad last year because this was the first time in many, many years that they weren’t a celebration at all and our boys were working very, very hard, everyone was working overtime,” said Sandkuhl.

“If you pick up your phone on the worst day of your life and need 911, one of us is there for you,” said EMS manager Shirley Gastler.

The celebrations began in person on Monday, many with grins that, thanks to vaccines and updated guidelines, weren’t hidden behind a mask.

“It was just a pleasure for us to see someone smile,” said Sandkuhl.

This year’s celebrations take place in a time of hope. The latest data from the St. Louis Metro Pandemic Task Force shows there have been three consecutive days of hospitalization among 200 COVID patients, the lowest the region has ever seen. The latest data also shows 16 new admissions, the lowest total number of single days since July 2, 2020.

The numbers delighted the health care workers at the celebration on Monday.

“This is a miracle for me because last year we were told at the time that we had to stay inside,” said Gastler.

“Best of all, patients on ventilators are almost gone, what a blessing,” said Sandkuhl.

The remainder of the week is also filled with fun events for EMS staff, including a softball tournament hosted by St. Louis Metro Pandemic Task Force head Dr. Alex Garza, who will knock out first place.

President Joe Biden issued a proclamation on Emergency Services Week on Friday.

“In communities across the country, emergency services providers work every day to save lives, protect dangerous situations, and give hope to families and communities in crisis,” Biden’s proclamation said. “With selflessness, professionalism and grace under attack, they offer the necessary diligence – never more than during our fight against COVID-19 last year.”

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