Three a.m. is not the most welcomed time of the day unless you're in bed. If you're a member of North Central EMS, getting a call in the middle of the night means forcing yourself to be alert and ready to go.
"That's the hardest time to wake your mind up," emergency medical technician (EMT) Mike Frisky said.
A six-person crew covers the North Central Norwalk station 24 hours, seven days a week on a permanent rotating schedule. In 2006, the Woodlawn Avenue station handled about 1,500 calls, an average of 125 each month.
EMTs and paramedics work 24 hours on and 48 hours off. They can't work more than 36 hours in a row.
The EMT said it's important to "catch a nap whenever you can" when he and paramedic Karen Shields aren't transporting patients or responding to emergency calls.
"Working 24s every day, you don't know how much sleep you're going to get," Frisky said.
That schedule helps Frisky tell people if he's going to be off work on a specific day weeks in advance.
"With the schedule we work, it's easier to do other things in our spare time," he said.
Frisky has been with North Central since 2005 and did similar work in Cleveland for three years before that. He worked in factories, sales and "a lot of restaurant work" before becoming an EMT.
He does more than being an emergency responder because his North Central work schedule is quite flexible. Frisky is a Realtor and a firefighter in Vermilion, where he has lived for the past five years.
"As a kid, I always wanted to be a cop," he said.
When he "couldn't get on with a police department," Frisky began studying to be an EMT because he finds it gratifying to save people's lives.
"It's helping people in their time of need," he said, admitting it's a clich, but is one he truly believes.
Frisky's work partner for the last year, Shields, also was pursuing a related service field before being pulled into emergency services work. She has worked at North Central since 1986.
"EMS totally took over my interest over nursing," she said. "I came in the year (North Central) started. I was not a charter member."
Before joining North Central, Shields worked as a part-time EMT for Hinman Ambuliner for one year while she was in the Elyria Memorial Hospital nursing program. She eventually studied to become a paramedic.
Shields found the idea of facing different situations every day and possibly with every call more appealing than working as nurse. She also likes that paramedics work on what is called "protocols," meaning they can make decisions on the spot and take action without conferring with a doctor.
"When you're a nurse in the hospital, you have to get a physician's order (first)," she explained.
The training for and philosophy behind nurses and paramedics are quite different.
"We (at North Central) have a patient for a matter of minutes," Shields said. "With nurses, the emergency is over. ... You're doing continual care."
When North Central workers aren't answering calls, they are cleaning, checking supplies or making sure that batteries for various equipment are fully charged. EMTs and paramedics, after facing back-to-back calls, also use their down time to catch up on paperwork.
"Trucks are supposed to be disinfected every day," Frisky added.
There's also time for teasing, especially when working together for 24 hours at a time. Shields, 41, said younger workers like Frisky, 27, tease the veteran employees by calling them "old school."
The public acknowledges they have a dangerous profession. Shields said an acquaintance who saw her at Sheri's Coffee House said she prays for Shields whenever she hears a siren in the distance.
Frisky considers being an EMT or paramedic service-oriented work, jobs which could be considered thankless. However, there are times when people shake their hands while the pair fill up their ambulance at a gas station.
"We don't do it for the thanks," Frisky said. "We don't expect it, but we do get it."