Racing through the streets of Brooklyn in an ambulance with lights flashing and sirens blaring is no tragic event for James Pointer. In fact, it's nothing unusual at all.
Division Chief Pointer is a volunteer with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which gets more than 100 calls each month reporting shootings, stabbings, and other violence in the community. Pointer is among a group of 40 active members who volunteer their time to respond to many of these incidents.
[First Lady Michelle Obama has declared Saturday, May 27 National Health Care Day of Service. Share your story of volunteerism here.]
One day last month, he was returning from a routine trip in the ambulance when a particularly desperate sounding voice came across the police dispatch. It was an officer screaming that a child had been stabbed in the head.
"By the time I got there, I saw a police officer running out of the house with a baby stabbed in the head," he recounts. The 2-year-old's father had stabbed the child with a butter knife after a dispute with his wife.
"I thought, 'Oh shoot,'" he remembers. He knew that the child could suffer severe brain damage. "I was able to wrap the baby up, give the baby some oxygen and get the baby to the hospital."
"The doctors told me I did an excellent job and that the baby is not going to have any brain damage. That was one of the biggest achievements in my years of doing this."
A big achievement indeed for a 20-year-old. Pointer has been working with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Volunteer Ambulance Corps since he was 13. He's now gone on to a professional EMT career in Manhattan, but he continues to volunteer here, in the neighborhood where he got his start.
"I owe the community something because I grew up in this community, I went to school in this community, I made mischief in this community. This community made me what I am today and I have to give back to them what they gave to me," he says.
Pointer began helping in 2001. He was too young to ride in either of the Corps' two ambulances, so he worked the dispatch, sending out crews to respond to calls. That was just before 9/11.
When the first plane struck the World Trade Center, Pointer and his classmates could see the flames from the window of their middle school classroom, and they were watching when the second plane hit. Pointer felt he had to do something.
In the days after 9/11, both of the Corps' ambulances were sent to help at Ground Zero. Pointer was still too young to go along, but he worked tirelessly dispatching from headquarters.
These days, his work in Bedford-Stuyvesant has become more relaxed, he says, in part because the Volunteer Ambulance Corps has been successful in creating opportunities for youngsters that keep them off the streets and away from crime. That's making his work easier.
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