By Maureen Halley
Director Marketing Communications, Anna Maria College
Some of the biggest virus outbreaks of this century have changed conventional thinking about how to prepare for disease outbreaks. In 2003, there was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS); the H1N1 influenza followed in 2009; Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012; and the deadly Ebola virus in 2014. “With each outbreak, we learned more and more about preparing for a pandemic, but no one could have predicted the astronomical effects of COVID-19,” said Nick DaDalt ’13.
When asked what it’s been like working on the front-lines during this pandemic, DaDalt, the Education Director for Central Massachusetts Emergency Medical Systems Corporation, responded that planning for the worst scenario is part of his job. “We all knew that a potential pandemic was coming, so we put plans and supplies into place quickly. We work closely with Massachusetts Department of Public Health and lot of time is put into preparedness – from dealing with training and equipment distribution to unfortunately, the threat of mass casualties.” This included the purchase and maintenance of regional assets over the years in preparation for the unknown, including Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) kits, designed to protect against certain respiratory hazards with integrated head, eye and face protection. Those PAPR kits are now in use at the temporary COVID Hospital set up at in Worcester’s DCU Center.
Reflecting on the situation, DaDalt shared that “preparedness capabilities have made a big difference in this pandemic, and we’ve also experienced daily learning opportunities for how to better face the future.”
He also added that there is a lot of stress placed on front-line workers; that nurses and doctors are being expected to do the unthinkable. “The level of required protection and even social distancing affects personal and professional lives, and how the work is done.” When a patient has been ill, their family was able to join them, but that’s no longer the case. “It’s very difficult to watch folks succumbing to this virus alone.”
As a front-line worker himself serving the town of Southbridge, MA as a Call Firefighter/EMT, DaDalt spoke about the changing role of emergency response. “When responding to a call now, we all have to stop and think about what we’re walking in to and what we may be taking home to our loved ones at the end of the day; that takes its toll both physically and emotionally.” That said, DaDalt is adamant about fulfilling his need to serve others. “Public service is a priority for me – it always has been and the pandemic doesn’t change that at all.”
After serving UMass-Memorial EMS/LifeFlight as an EMS Communication Specialist and Training/QI Coordinator for nearly 10 years, DaDalt enrolled in the Fire Science and Administration program at Anna Maria College because of its reputation for delivering an in-depth education with a focus on the importance of service to others. “Anna Maria prepared me to serve in a leadership capacity, to carry out the tasks that I’m facing during this dynamic and unforeseen situation; without my education, I would have struggled.” He also added that the programs “attract people in public safety to the campus who not only understand and value, but live the College’s mission every day.”
As the Education Director for Central Massachusetts Emergency Medical Systems Corporation, Nick DaDalt has his finger on the pulse of many different aspects of life support services provided to the people of Central MA. He provides a central information point for all providers relative to pre-hospital treatment protocols, EMS regulations, advisories, certification and recertification requirements, training and education. DaDalt is also a logistics management specialist with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), and maintains a continuous state of readiness in order to deploy – and serve – with Disaster Medical Assistance Team Massachusetts-2 during and after public health emergency response. He ensures the setup of response team’s equipment, base of operation infrastructure, and is responsible for the inventory of supplies. He has served NDMS for 14 years, helping to provide critical emergency medical care on deployments including Super Storm Sandy (New York) in 2012, Hurricane Irma (Florida) in 2017, Hurricane Maria (Puerto Rico) in 2017, and recently to a COVID-19 Mission in California.