After 57 years of service, Cross takes NYS award as Basic Life Support Provider of the Year

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Gerald Cross, 79, has been named Basic Life Support Provider of the Year by New York State, and will receive his award in Syracuse this October.

BERNE — Gerald Cross nearly missed his interview at The Enterprise office in Altamont on Monday. A 9-1-1 call came in after he had driven off the Hill, and it would’ve taken too long to drive back to the Helderberg Ambulance station, so the call was pushed to Albany County’s ambulance service.

Had the call come in 15 minutes earlier, Cross said, he would have been on it.

Cross, who will be 80 in February, has been working for the Hilltown ambulance service in one way or another since 1961, well over half a century. He drove an ambulance before becoming one of the first of three certified emergency medical technicians in the Hilltowns in 1972.

Fifty-seven years after he started, Cross has been awarded for that hard work. Members of the squad nominated him as Basic Life Support Provider of the Year. He was honored first regionally in April, and then was honored by the New York State Department of Health in July.

“I got a little choked up and my wife said, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’” said Cross. He gave her the letter and told her to read it.

“When I got the award, I was pretty humbled,” he said, describing it as a “great honor.”

“I didn’t even know I was nominated until I received the award,” he added. His squad had submitted his name for the award.

Cross will be receiving his award at the Vital Signs Conference in Syracuse on Oct. 13. He was already planning on attending, he said, in order to get recertified as all EMTs must do every three years.

Cross has lived in Berne all his life, save for the time he served in the Army Aviation Branch as a helicopter mechanic, and the few times he was out of town while working for General Electric, a 38-year career.

Cross has also been a member of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company since 1961, though he only offers training now. He said he never wanted to be a fireman; he is afraid of heights and deathly afraid of fire. It was his brother-in-law who convinced him to join the volunteer fire department alongside him.

“I can thank him because at the time the ambulance was part of the fire company,” he said.

In recent years, Cross has seen many other volunteer ambulance squads close down or be replaced by a paid agency, such as in Altamont, Voorheesville, and Rensselaerville.

At Helderberg Ambulance, Cross says it is fortunate that the squad has taken on several new members, particularly during a time when volunteerism is declining. There are now 12 to 15 EMTs, and even more drivers. Cross ticked off the names of members, both new and old, who make up the squad. He is excited to see what the new members will bring to the squad.

Cross said he that, over the years, the ambulance service has gone from “a simple grab and go,” where people were put into the back of a station wagon and taken as quickly as possible to the hospital (or in some circumstances the morgue), to having an ambulance staffed with an EMT and a driver and sometimes a paramedic from the Albany County Sheriff’s office.

Recalling traumatic scenes he has responded to, Cross is able to go over the way an accident unfolded with precision. But he is also unafraid to show emotion, he said, and it shows in his recollections of responding to scenes that usually involve someone he knows.

Additionally, Cross now works at Fredendall Funeral Home in Altamont, greeting and comforting his neighbors and friends at a wake or a service for someone he may have been transporting in the ambulance not too long before.

“People ask, at my age, why I’m still doing it,” he said, of being an EMT. The reasons: He still is able to, and he likes volunteering as one.

Cross has been offered paid EMT positions before, but he’s declined. He said he doesn’t want being an EMT to be a job for him. What he enjoys, he said, is being a comfort to people, and serving the Hilltowns.

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