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NDP EMS Employee Spotlight: Chris Maeurer, Paramedic

Chris Maeurer, Paramedic

Every first responder has an “origin story” when it comes to what inspired this particular career path. For Chris Maeurer, Paramedic at NDP EMS, it was a diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease at age 10 that first instilled in him a sense that he belonged in a “helping profession.”

Years later, as a young adult, Chris embarked on a professional journey that has allowed him to help countless people along the way. The rewards have been meaningful and impactful, but the journey has not been without profound sadness as well. When he lost someone near and dear to him on 9/11 - the courageous, compassionate firefighter Tommy Cassoria - Chris tapped into an even deeper level of commitment to service, which has shaped every experience since. Here’s more:

Chris, tell us more about you and how you landed on this career path.

I grew up in Queens and went to Brooklyn Tech in Brooklyn, which is where my wife Alithia happens to be from! Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 10, I always knew I wanted to do something to help people, because so many people helped me.

My maternal grandfather was a New York City firefighter. For 42 or 43 years, he spent his days in service to others, driving the hook and ladder truck. I always found that to be fascinating - but for those of us with Crohn’s, because we cannot absorb nutrients from food, we are constantly malnourished. I didn’t grow at the same rate as my classmates (I was 90 pounds right through high school), my immune system was always out of whack, and it was obvious that following my grandfather’s footsteps as a firefighter would be out of my reach due to the physical demands of that job (and we didn’t have the option of volunteering as many do here in the Hudson Valley).

So I went through high school unsure about what I wanted to do, but was always in the care of wonderful nurses and doctors, who were with me when I missed prom and graduation and all kinds of other things - because I was so often in the hospital. On the last day of school in my graduation year of 1995, I was home on IV therapy but had to go to school to pick up my belongings. I had to take the train and I wore a leather jacket to cover my arms because I didn’t want anyone to see my IVs. I remember feeling like I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life - but by that point I really had so much experience with healthcare on the patient side, and still felt like helping people somehow would be a must for me.

So did that somehow lead you to EMS?

EMS was actually not at all on my radar. I started at a community college after initially taking some time off, and knew I wanted to work toward something. I joined a fraternity with some amazing guys. A few were actually Veterans who had started college later in life. I ended up getting very ill and landed in the hospital again, where I had major intestinal surgery.

I was in a couple of different hospitals. One put me on the adult side because I was 20, while another one had me placed in the pediatric wing because I was under 21. I remember seeing very small children with chemotherapy bags which reminded me that I was actually very lucky and had so much to be grateful for. And in both hospitals, the staff were amazing - just like so many other people who had taken care of me at various points along the way. I got so much perspective during that time of my life. So it seemed like nursing might be a good fit and would allow me a chance to “pay it forward” - and as I went through 3 semesters of not getting classes I wanted, I figured I’d sign up for CPR, which I knew I would need anyway.

A friend of mine had just completed his EMT training, and when I asked him where to take CPR, he said, “No. Don’t take CPR. Go right for your EMT certification instead - you’ll get your CPR card AND get skills and real-world experience that you can apply to nursing or whatever you choose to do. It’s just a few months out of your life and it will be so much more helpful!”

I took his advice and the rest is history.

I know the early part of your career came with incredible hardship - can you reflect on that for us?

Initially, I started working in Brooklyn and worked doing transports as an EMT for another company. We didn’t handle 911 calls - mostly we just did interfacility transports through 5 boroughs and horrible traffic. I wanted to do more, and after just having finished my EMT at the end of 1999, I enrolled in a Paramedic class in the fall of 2000 at LaGuardia Community College.

The program was 11 months long, and during that time, I was reminded of just how important these roles are in our society. My cousin was engaged to a firefighter who was fantastic - Tommy Cassoria. They were engaged for 17 months and he was an important part of the family. There was a fire in the Spring of 2001 that was very devastating and took the lives of several firefighters from his company, including one person with whom Tommy happened to have swapped shifts that day. So Tommy was lucky enough to survive that tragedy. However, on September 11, 2001, his luck ran out - just a couple of months after I graduated from my program. I had overslept that morning of 9/11 myself - and as I rushed to the station to report to work, the second plane hit. It felt like “War of the Worlds” in New York City. I reached out to Alithia and we began checking on family and friends, and by that night when we went to bed, we had connected with everyone except for Tommy. He had been with his selfless team (Engine 22) in the South Tower. That company was among those that lost the most people on 9/11. It was years later when we learned that Tommy and his crew were helping to evacuate people, and they had gotten someone in a wheelchair into the elevator when the elevator stalled about 1-2 dozen floors up. They tried to carry the wheelchair-bound person down the stairs, at which point the tower fell.

It was an incredibly difficult period for all of us. There are really no words.

By then, Alithia and I were dating and expecting a baby. She worked as a PA at a Brooklyn hospital and, like me, she was putting in about 60 hours/week in the months following the tragic events of 9/11. We were both so exhausted and when we got any time together, we just passed out. But on November 11, 2001, we got married and began thinking about where we wanted to raise our children. We had good friends in Greene County, and by 2006, we were fully ready for a better quality of life upstate - so we made the move.

And eventually in 2010, you found your way to NDP EMS. What has that been like?

It’s been great. I love the people, the communities we serve, the workplace environment, and the whole way things are set up. One EMT and one Paramedic work together at NDP to take care of things, soup to nuts. In one day you might transport someone to dialysis and then care for someone following a serious car accident.

NDP also offers excellent insurance and benefits, and I really love my flexible schedule. I am based out of our Livingston Station in Columbia County and get to meet great people and work with fellow first responders too.

Chris, what do you most love about your work? Being a part of our team at NDP EMS gives me the chance to do exactly what I always wanted to do: help others. I want to be there for people and go above and beyond for them, just like so many people did for me from the time I was a kid. And I get to do that every single day.

I also think about people like Tommy, and how much impact we can all make as first responders - and I feel really proud to be part of a group of people who are doing what we can to protect the safety, health, and well-being of others. I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than that.

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