East Haven resident and Army veteran Mike Turcio’s service to his community through his work for the American Medical Response (AMR) and his efforts to help fellow service veterans have singled him out as a 2017 Star of Life award winner by the American Ambulance Association.
Mike says he was in the process of finding his way in life at age 22 when he joined the Army. He was watching a documentary on HBO called Baghdad ER, which showed the Iraq War from the perspective of a military hospital, and saw the reality of what was going on at the time.
“I see the reality of it, and here I am; I’m sitting watching TV and these guys are out there, they’re being hurt, they’re serving our country, and I felt like I was doing an injustice by just sitting around,” Mike says.
Mike called the recruiter and joined the next day. He had a 15-month deployment in Iraq, and says he met great guys during that time who became like a second family. He still misses them to this day.
He says the military challenged him and let him know what his full potential was both mentally and physically. He was very proud to earn his stripes overseas, coming back as sergeant.
“I’m glad I did it,” Mike says, “I wish I did it a little longer, but I settled down to have a family and start over here again.”
He applied for medical services in the Army, but was a few points short on the test, so he took the next job available, which was as an engineer. Mike says that transitioning back into civilian life was difficult, but he was able to make the most of his benefits from the service.
After taking EMT classes at Gateway Community College, he got a job at AMR, and eventually transitioned to paramedic. He is now a field supervisor.
“I’ve been rolling strong as a supervisor and able to do what I was doing in the service for my guys here—the leadership, the mental health, looking out for their wellbeing,” Mike says.
As field supervisor, Mike says he tries to lead by working with his crew.
“It’s big, and I need to be out in the field with my guys, and not giving them a job that I wouldn’t do myself,” Mike says.
He started a program, which he runs once per year, through which he honors all military service veterans working at AMR with a challenge coin and holds a breakfast for them at AMR in gratitude of their service. He also helps run a fundraiser to buy clothing and hygiene supplies for veterans they’ve encountered on AMR calls; his ambulance crews also keep a ready source of referrals for sources of help for veterans.
Mike says these “care packages” will help the veterans, some of whom may be homeless, to get through the next few days after AMR turns over care to a hospital. He says that some veterans have a tough time transitioning, and wants to let them know they are still thought about and appreciated for their service.
Another role Mike has is as an advanced life support instructor for the Center for EMS Education at Yale New Haven Health, where he teaches things like CPR.
“It’s a big deal, because we are the primary educators to Yale New Haven Hospital, which is a great opportunity,” Mike says, “It’s a great thing for all the instructors to be a part of.”
He also works with the University of New Haven, which just started a bachelor’s degree program for paramedicine. Mike says he was lucky enough to be the lead instructor for the 2015 cohort, which will be graduating in two years.
The American Ambulance Association’s website—stars.ambulance.org—says Mike’s award “celebrates the contributions of ambulance professionals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to their communities or the EMS profession.”
Mike says he had no idea he was even nominated, and says finding out about it was almost a surreal feeling.
“It’s considered the highest award you can get in EMS, and I’m very honored to get it,” Mike says, “I’m honored that my peers voted for me, and this was by total surprise, so it really meant a lot for me.”
One of 108 recipients nationwide, Mike got to go to Washington, D.C., and says it was a great experience. He got to meet the CEO of AMR, as well as legislators.
Overall, Mike says it makes him feel great that he gives back and can have a positive effect on the community in so many ways.
“To say that I was able to give something back to my community; I think that’s one of the greatest that we can do, not only for our community, but our country, is to give back and sacrifice our time,” Mike says, “So to be able to serve the country, and represent the United States, and represent New Haven, it’s a big deal for me. I’m very proud of where I come from.”