As virus sprawls, volunteers help sew gowns for Helderberg squad 

From left, volunteers Alan Zuk, Cynthia Johnson, Debra Flagler, Mildred Zuk, and Randy Bashwinger stand before a Helderberg ambulance.

HILLTOWNS — With the help of volunteer seamstresses, the Helderberg Ambulance Squad will soon have sturdy, reusable gowns that will help protect both the workers and their patients while they serve the public as the coronavirus spreads in Albany County. 

With protective medical equipment in short supply around the world, the Helderberg Ambulance Squad decided that it’d be best to order raw material with which to sew the gowns. 

“We would wear them mostly in bloody situations or with a chemical spill,” Mildred Zuk, an emergency medical technician, told The Enterprise. Now, gowns will be worn by all members for all calls, as will goggles and gloves. 

“When you enter a home, you just don’t know,” Zuk said.

But while the squad is fortunate to have enough goggles and gloves in stock to accommodate the influx of use, gowns were scarce.

“We’ve always had goggles,” Zuk said, “and we also have [surgical] masks, but we don’t have the N95 masks. So we had a lot of the goggles and gloves and masks but we didn’t ever wear the gowns that often so we didn’t have enough [when the virus hit],” Zuk said.

As of Monday, six volunteers have been enlisted to help turn the material into gowns that will be waterproof and washable, and able to be reused rather than repeatedly disposed of, as had been done in the past. 

Zuk said that the squad’s captain, Neil Hogan, originally planned to order enough material to make 25 gowns, but ended up ordering extra, just to be safe. The Helderberg Ambulance Squad has 25 volunteers, though some of those volunteers do clerical work and will not need gowns. 

One of the six volunteers will make a test pattern and report back to the other volunteers and they’ll evaluate whether the design works or if they need to make changes. 

Zuk said that she hopes more volunteers will offer their needle-skills once her Enterprise column, “Volunteer voices,” is published, but has so far been happy with the response.

“We have an 80-plus year old woman volunteering,” Zuk said, “and she told me on the phone that she was just thinking ‘Even though I’m old, I can do something, and now here I am talking to you.’”

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