Brooklyn’s Chinese American community now has its own ambulance company — the first of its kind on the East Coast — to address a growing need for paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who speak Chinese dialects like Mandarin, Cantonese, and Toisanese.
Launched in early April, the “historic” service is the brainchild of Dr. Gary Chen and Midwood Ambulance’s director of hospital services Alonzo Rapisarda II and features two ambulances, staffed by 25 Chinese-speaking EMTs, paramedics, dispatchers, and administrators — some of whom grew up in the neighborhoods they now serve.
“I like to help people, especially Asian people,” said Kinfai Ng, 29, and EMT from Bensonhurst. “I speak Cantonese and Toisanese, and understand Mandarin. My grandpa died a long time ago and didn’t speak English, so didn’t want to call 9-1-1. But he trusted me. Two days later, he had a heart attack. I thought if I were a paramedic, I could speak to him and he might’ve been OK. That’s why this is a great idea. For people like my grandpa.
Timotius Ong, 22, said his family in Sunset Park “thinks it’s pretty great” that he is working within his home community. The former Starbucks shift supervisor explained that after taking health tests to qualify for that job, he decided to take the EMS course and has been an official EMT for two months now.
“Being in this program is really good,” Ong told us. “I get to help patients who have a language barrier and make them comfortable.”
Stories like this highlight how the Asian American Ambulance service — which is now available across Brooklyn to patients of all languages, ages, and backgrounds — is already impacting the community three-fold, say organizers: not only does it improve health care access to a growing portion of Brooklyn’s population, but it also provides “solid union jobs” for Chinese American youth, but sends a portion of its revenues back to the community, through the community nonprofit, United Chinese Association of Brooklyn (UCA)’s, programs for seniors and children.
“There is a lot of talk in the news about the need for good jobs, This is it,” said Rapisarda, who said Midwood Ambulance is working with the Teamsters to recruit and train new hires.
“Seniors, going into ambulances, are already distressed,” said UCA’s president, Steve Chung. “We need to communicate and be open to all the general public. Dr. Chen [pointed out that] we have to learn from the Jewish community with their ambulance to serve their community.”
The company is based in Bensonhurst/Gravesend, at 2593 West 13th Street. To reach the Asian American Ambulance, call 718-530-9911.