Homecoming at Bed-Stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corps

James (Rocky) Robinson (left) and Joe Perez and Tamsin Wolf.

EMT students, volunteers, instructors and visitors at Bed-Stuy Volunteer Ambulance Corps (BSVAC) all know who Joe Perez is, even though most of them had never met him. They know that Joe was the EMT who served as the partner of James (“Rocky”) Robinson in NYC’s Emergency Medical Service and co-founded BSVAC more than two decades ago.

His face and voice are familiar from the videos and documentaries that are shown to new recruits. His exploits, humor and heroism are recalled with affection by the original members who worked with him, including BSVAC Director Rudy Muhammad and BSVAC Vice President Tamsin Wolf who helped establish the organization in 1989.

As Rocky puts it, “We were the original rainbow coalition back in a time when it was almost unheard of for an African American like myself, a Latino like Joe and an Orthodox Jewish lady like Tamsin to get together and set out to make history.” But that’s exactly what they did, forming the first multi-cultural, ethnically inclusive volunteer ambulance corps in America.

After helping to lead BSVAC for more than decade, Joe Perez relocated to Clearwater, Florida where he became a successful entrepreneur. The demands of his business kept him in Florida and he was not able to return to Bed-Stuy to share in BSVAC’s triumphs and challenges through the years. But fate and VP Wolf conspired to bring Joe back.

Twelve years after leaving BSVAC, and on the fourth anniversary of the passing of Deborah Crawford, BSVAC’s first director of training, Joe and his wife Vicky paid a visit. Wolf arranged for Perez to surprise Robinson, and the joy shared by the two men was immediate, heartfelt and infectious.

Robinson presented Perez to the EMT students, and Perez told them that from the most humble of beginnings — without an ambulance or any volunteers other than Robinson and himself — the corps had become a world class organization. “I always said that what we were doing was so important that we would go from the streets of Bed-Stuy to the White House, and that’s what happened.” Indeed, Perez and Robinson were honored at the White House by President George F. Bush as one of the Points of Light.

Perez was also reunited with longtime BSVAC volunteers Merlin (“Porgy”) Pointer, Jacinto (“Disco”) Torres, and Michael (“Mark”) Crawford (brother of Deborah). He was taken aback to see that Robinson’s daughter Shanida had grown up to become an EMT and BSVAC’s assistant director.

After touring the dispatch area, administrative offices and the Deborah Crawford EMS Training Academy, Perez said he was “shocked at how much the Corps has grown.” Reflecting on the large EMT class, the new recruits, the seasoned EMTs on call, and the many volunteers and visitors, Perez declared, “It’s really good to see that you’ve done something that lives on.”

Perez was particularly impressed by the fact that four doctors who practice at Kings County Hospital are currently enrolled in BSVAC’s EMT training program. As Wolf explains, “Once again, BSVAC is at the forefront. Disaster preparedness is now a priority for everyone and we are taking the lead in training doctors in pre-hospital emergency medical care so they can respond on the scene.”

After training thousands of community residents as first responders, BSVAC continues to provide CPR, first aid and EMT training to individuals and groups. Robinson dreams of going to a sold-out game at Yankee Stadium and training the entire crowd in life-saving skills between innings.

Wolf dreams of a building (instead of a trailer) for BSVAC that would contain classrooms, a free neighborhood clinic where visiting doctors would donate their time, and single occupancy housing for homeless individuals who would be trained in emergency medical care and then transition to employment. Perez dreams of helping BSVAC develop additional services to generate much needed funding. He is already planning his next visit. His wife Vicky puts it simply: “It’s great to be back.”

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