Montgomery Co. EMS company's big role in Papal visit

ARDMORE, Pa. (WPVI) -- Although most of the focus on the pope's visit has been on Center City, he'll spend a large share of his time in Montgomery County.

And that means extra duty for medical services there, especially for one ambulance company.

It's all because of St. Charles Seminary in Wynnewood, where the pope will sleep Saturday night and meet with bishops Sunday morning.

It's also where many people are expected to turn up, hoping to get a glimpse of Pope Francis.

For Narberth Ambulance, protecting everyone's health in this area has become a big operation.

"We have the people who will staff the trucks, our gators, our tents," said Deputy Chief Al Davey, motioning to schedule charts taped to the wall in the ambulance company's training room in Ardmore.

For nearly 5 months, Narberth Ambulance has planned and trained for this weekend.

The company will cover its usual area of Lower Merion and Conshohocken, but there'll be heightened coverage for the seminary.

"Everyone who visits, from the Secret Service to a groundskeeper," said Davey.

In addition, it will also cover most of City Avenue and, for the first time, the Wynnefield and Overbrook sections of Philadelphia, to free up city fire medics for downtown and the Parkway.

From EMTs to licensed physicians, all 100 members of the company will be on duty, on everything from bicycles to ambulances to buses.

And they'll have extra equipment, too, including a fully equipped motorcycle ambulance.

It's the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania, and is on loan from Cheltenham Township.

Ken Hellendall, the director of emergency medical services for Cheltenham, said the township acquired it for the long reconstruction of Route 309, when traffic jams - and accidents within them - became almost daily occurrences.

"It carries a monitor defibrillator, all sorts of basic life-support supplies, it carries the regular narcotics that an ambulance has, though in smaller amounts. It's also got other equipment, such as I-V drips, and stuff like that," said Hellendall of the motorcycle.

But the primary goal of the cycle is to get through traffic or crowds to emergencies, and see if more help is needed.

Narberth Ambulance is also borrowing all-terrain vehicles from Montgomery County's public safety agency for greater mobility.

David Brown, the deputy director of public safety for the county, said he and other planners are using experience of providing care at large stadiums, concerts and outdoor gatherings.

The ambulance company plan is being supplemented by Lankenau Medical Center, which will have first-aid tents near its entrance on Lancaster Avenue, across from St. Charles Seminary, for anyone who might need care.

Those will be staffed, starting Friday morning.

Putting the plan together has taken a lot of work, but officials said it's worth it for this is once-in-a-lifetime event.

"He's a global rock star!" said Davey.
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