By Caroline Fassett | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
December 25, 2020
A nurse. A science teacher. A gym owner. The head of a non-profit. A volunteer EMT. A wedding officiant. Six people. All linked by what has connected us all in 2020 - the coronavirus pandemic. Whatever we thought 2020 was going to be, COVID-19 changed everything.
As we come to the close of the year, NJ Advance Media asked New Jerseyans to reflect on the past 12 months, and share their thoughts and their hopes for the future. This series of essays, videos and interviews, called Can’t stop us | How Jerseyans adapted, came together and persevered in 2020, continues below.
NJ Advance Media recently sat down for an in-depth video interview with Jason Mayer, a 21-year-old volunteer and EMS lieutenant for the South Branch Emergency Services in Hunterdon County.
In this interview, Mayer reflects on the unprecedented events of this past year that stirred “a big change” from the normal for himself and for the squad — particularly at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, when the world was mostly unaware of what the virus even is.
“The biggest thing I’ll never forget is my first call with a (COVID-19) patient ... donning all this new PPE that we wear — our gowns, our N95 masks, our eye protection,” Mayer said. “And just going into this building and we’re not sure exactly what we’re up against, and then we’re just relying back on our training and our PPE to help keep us safe.”
Mayer also delved into the new cleaning and social distancing procedures the organization adopted to protect themselves and others, including responding to calls while socially distancing and helping one another “gown up.”
Still, while at times challenged by the “constant bombarding” of new procedures and guidance from the state Department of Health, Mayer said the pandemic ultimately brought the squad closer together.
“We’re all here for each other and help each other with everything,” Mayer said. “Even going back through the PPE, we’re helping each other gown up, get ready for these calls. After the calls we’re helping each other clean ... it kind of just helps us come together even more than we were before.”
He also said the pandemic ultimately improved his abilities as a first responder by forcing him to become more independent and utilize less resources.
Nonetheless, he expressed his excitement that an end to the epidemic appears to be around the corner.
“As healthcare providers we would be one of the earlier ones to get the vaccine available to us, so that will definitely be something that will help us protect ourselves and keep ourselves healthy so we can continue to help the people,” Mayer said.
Despite balancing his service with being a full-time college student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, Mayer intends to continue volunteering with South Branch Emergency Services for “as long as I can” — and encouraged others to consider doing the same.
“We provide all the training and everything you would to need to become a volunteer,” Mayer said.
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Caroline Fassett may be reached at email@example.com.