St. Louis first responders honored during EMS week


ST. LOUIS – SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital honored more than 200 first responders with Hendrick’s BBQ at Tower Grove Park to kick off emergency medical services week.

“There’s not much reason why you wouldn’t want to celebrate them,” SSM Health EMS Administrative Director Helen Sandkuhl said. “They work so hard every day.”

The annual celebration runs May 16-22 but was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, during a time that first responders likely needed the celebration and applause the most.

“We were very sad last year because this was the first time in many, many years they were no celebrations whatsoever and our guys were working very, very hard, everyone was working overtime,” Sandkuhl said.

“When you pick up your phone on the worst day of your life and you need 911, one of us will be there for you,” EMS Manager Shirley Gastler said.

The celebrations began Monday in-person, many with a grin that wasn’t hidden behind a mask thanks to vaccines and updated guidelines.

“This has been just a delight for us to walk up and see somebody smiling,” Sandkuhl said.

This year’s celebrations are coming at a time of hope. The latest data from the St. Louis Metro Pandemic Task Force show there have been three consecutive days with hospitalizations under 200 COVID patients, the lowest the region has experienced. The most recent data also shows 16 new admissions, the lowest single-day total since July 2, 2020.

The numbers excited healthcare workers at the celebration Monday.

“That to me is a miracle because last year at this time we were being told we had to stay inside,” Gastler said.

“The best thing, patients on ventilators are almost gone, what a blessing,” Sandkuhl said.

The rest of the week is also filled with fun events for EMS personnel including a softball tournament where St. Louis Metro Pandemic Task Force Leader Dr. Alex Garza will be throwing out the first pitch.

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

“Every day, in communities across the country, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) providers put themselves on the line to save lives, safeguard dangerous situations, and deliver hope to families and communities in crisis,” Biden’s proclamation said. “With selflessness, professionalism, and grace under fire, they provide essential care — never more so than during our battle with COVID-19 over the past year.”

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