Tag Archives: Inspiration

On the Front Lines of the Pandemic with My Nephew

12 Apr
Chris Miller_Blog Shot 2020

As of this writing, New Jersey has approximately 56,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and rising. It’s currently one of the nation’s biggest hot spots, second only to New York City and New York State. And on the front lines fighting this global pandemic is my favorite first responder – my nephew Chris.

Chris Image 1 Final

Chris as Captain, Age 22.                                               
Chris Portrait
Chris as Deputy Chief, Age 32.

Chris has been a rescue squad member in New Jersey for literally half his life. He joined when he was sixteen and has never looked back since. He is now Deputy Chief of his squad with two lieutenants and a captain who report to him. But what I find equally amazing to these achievements is the fact that Chris is a volunteer. He, along with his colleagues, risk their lives to save perfect strangers – for free.

Frank and Chris

Chief Frank and Deputy Chief Chris in happier times.

Awards Ceremony 2018

Chris and his fellow squad members recognized for actions in the line of duty, May 2018.

I sat down the other night and checked in with Chris, who was on duty and had just come back from a call. I asked him what it was like being on the front lines of the greatest health crisis most of us will likely ever see, and hopefully live through. I wanted to share what he had to say.

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How fast is the Coronavirus spreading in your neck of the woods?

Well, a week ago we had just one case of the virus in our little town of 3,400 people, and now we’re up to 10. In the county we’re in the hundreds. My squad covers approximately a 60-square mile area, and we currently have about 60 cases in that area.

Chris in Seed Bin

Chris during Technical Rescue Training – Summer 2019.

To your knowledge, have you ever been infected with the virus?

It was about three weeks ago tonight, I had to be quarantined because of a suspected exposure. They didn’t have tests available then, so about twelve of us including four state troopers and two paramedics, had to self-quarantine. This virus has such a high-incubation rate, about two weeks, that I wouldn’t have tested positive anyway. So, I sat on the sidelines until we got the all-clear. Now, if we’re exposed but asymptomatic, they’ll let us go back to medical work but we have to wear a mask the entire time. It’s because there just aren’t enough medical workers to go around. We were just informed that our third New Jersey EMT, a 24-year-old, died of Covid-19. Needless to say, we’re taking it very, very seriously.

Chris in Fire Rescue Gear

Chris (center) assisting on a car fire with fellow firefighters.

Can you tell me what your normal day is now with the outbreak?

It’s far from normal. For starters, what took us a half-hour a couple weeks ago, now takes us an hour and a half to do. It’s all the prep to stay safe going out on a Covid-19 call. The start of every shift, we clean and sanitize everything – the rig, our boots, and get the prep kits ready. Then we just wait for the calls to come in. We have to be in a surgical mask whenever we’re in the building, whenever we’re out in public – all the time essentially.

Chris behind Rig

Chris, decontaminating the ambulance.  

We’ve been hearing about shortages. Do you and your crew have enough PPEs?

We’re definitely in short supply of masks, so we have to reuse them like everyone else (with exclusions). I have an N95 mask, and if I wear another (surgical) mask over it – that mask will keep particles off the N95, which means we can get a couple uses of our N95s in the field before we dispose of them. I can’t speak to how well we’re stocked (on masks) right now because the call volume is ever-changing. For instance, today we’ve been on 7 Covid-19 calls alone, so you can imagine how much PPE we go through even for a two-person crew. I’ve bought some of my own supply on the open market, for a healthy mark-up.

Chris Beside Rig

Chris, donning his Personal Protection Equipment for a possible Covid-19 emergency.  

What is it like to respond to a suspected Covid-19 rescue squad call?

Right now, we’re starting to see a real up-tick in our call volume. What’s strange is how we have to handle more serious calls. Where we would normally have an additional ambulance crew, or some police, they may come but we’re keeping them out of the scene right now, telling them to stay in their vehicles until we can ascertain whether we are going to need their help. We just responded to a cardiac arrest call right before you called, and where there would normally be three or more of us, at least two EMTs and a first responder, now there’s just the one EMT and first responder in some cases. It’s what we’re having to do to try and minimize exposure. Nobody can afford for us to have to go back into quarantine again.

Ultraviolet Rig

An UltraViolet Lantern used to sterilize the ambulance.

You and your crew rescue people for free. Are there a lot of voluntary rescue squads across the nation?

There are more in areas that do not have larger towns, and as you hit the mid-west, but there’s also other states that are starting to regionalize their EMS systems. They may have one paid station, with other stations elsewhere. A lot of the mid-west and upper mid-west is where you’re seeing voluntary agencies in addition to the northeast. Other states like California are nearly 100 percent paid crews. The same is with New York City, which is covered by FDNY. But if you head Upstate New York, there are more volunteer squads.

Chris in Command

Chris, command at training drill, Winter 2017.  

Ice Rescue

Chris instructing his crew during an ice-rescue training exercise – January 2019.

Being on the front lines, I’m sure you’re keeping an eye on the Coronavirus surge models. What are they telling you?

Right now, approximately 50 percent of our calls are Covid-19 related. Obviously, we expect that percentage to keep going up. All those calls aren’t always Covid-19 positive, but Covid-19 suspicious. But we have to treat each call the same. We’re anticipating we’re going to see the number of cases peak in the state over the next week. Meanwhile, our county is anticipating peak in the next couple of weeks. So, we’re just starting to get into the heavy part of this now. As far as the state, we could see hotspots in places like Princeton, which is more densely populated. Jersey City and Hoboken are seeing a lot more cases now. And Bergen and Essex County that border Manhattan are also hotspots.

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Chris, during an after-action meeting, following a multi-agency incident.

To your knowledge, are people adhering to the Stay-at-Home order in your state?

With mixed results, really. There’s been a lot of chatter on the police channels we scan for our work. It’s mostly people congregating, people out playing sports, people out taking walks – people just trying to release stress and escape the cabin fever. They really don’t understand that it’s best for them, their friends and family to stay inside and social distance. The other numbers this will negatively affect are psychological, domestic violence, and suicide.

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Chris, age 21, and Frank, during a much-needed break from running squad calls.

I keep coming back to the fact you do this for free. How do you make rescue squad and having a day job work?

Well, I just got furloughed from my day job starting Monday. I didn’t expect it to happen this soon but it did and without warning. So, I’ll be applying for unemployment and hoping the stimulus package checks come soon. Otherwise, it could start to be a pretty sticky situation for me, financially. I guess the upside is that I can now go on more rescue squad calls.

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Chris with Doreen, his Mother, who is a former rescue squad member and past Chief.

I’m sure that doesn’t sound like an upside to your parents?

My Mom used to do rescue squad with me. It’s how I first got into it. She worries but she also knows she can’t tell me to quit. It’s in my blood. The passion to help people is why I do it. I think it would be different if I got paid. Ironically, I think I’d have burned out a long time ago if it was my job-job. It’s hard to explain to most people but I’m just thankful that I’m still healthy.

Chris having Fun

Chris making repairs in a heavy rescue vehicle.

I’m thankful you’re healthy too. Good luck and try to stay that way.

Sure thing, Uncle Jon. Thanks for checking in!

Chris Image 6 Final

Chris, working a parish festival in New Jersey in more normal times.

A Mother’s Dedication

12 May


I’m sure dedicating your first novel to your Mother is probably not that unusual. My debut novel, LOOKING FOR GARBO (Amphorae Publishing Group) is no different. The fact my Mom will have been gone 35 years ago this June is maybe less common, I hope. I finally had the chance to begin scanning family photos that have been passed down to me. My favorites are of my Mom and Dad when they were first engaged, then married and on their honeymoon. What a stylish shirt my Mom had on in this shot. I think she’s either 23 or 24 years old here and I love her short haircut.


What a beautiful young couple my Mom and Dad are here. They are obviously in love. Dad is looking sharp in tie and suspenders, and Mom is effortlessly elegant in what I can only assume is a black dress. As the story goes, they met as teenagers at a party, then didn’t see each other again until their paths crossed years later on a New York City street corner. I always liked that story of serendipity – destined to find each other again.


Mom and Dad look even younger here, sitting in front of Mom’s parents, Howard and Alva, and my Dad’s Mom, a widower since my Dad was a young boy. It’s a great Christmas holiday portrait, and I smile every time I look at the young couple, all full of promise and at the very start of their journey together. I’m so glad this photo survived.

Mom_Dad 3

A truly great candid of my parents. I often wonder who took the picture. It seems to me to have been a good friend of theirs. Mom’s easy, relaxed smile and Dad’s boyish grin make me think they were having a night on the town with another couple. It’s also nice to pick out the details of the cars and the wrought iron city street lamp behind them.


Mom and Dad’s wedding reception: That’s my Uncle John on the left watching his brother and brand new sister-in-law cut the cake. I particularly like Mom’s grey (or is blue?) suit. It was a tiny affair but by the look on my Dad’s face – he’s as happy as can be married to his love. I love the bowtie Uncle John is sporting, and the table dressing is classic.

Mom_Dad 4

Here’s another shot of Mom and Dad entering (or leaving) the service where they were married. They look like a sophisticated, up and coming couple to me here. I love the veil Mom is wearing and the somewhat fuzzy-focused motion to them. It’s a great candid and so interesting to see the difference a black & white shot can make, compared to the technicolor of the one above.


Here they are on their honeymoon. They look like kids again, especially Mom in her shorts, white socks and red shoes. This was after a sport fishing trip in which Dad caught a marlin that he had stuffed and hung on the wall above our living room couch for years. It’s a great, casual shot of them in the prime of their lives. I also love the sign telling you where they are.

Mom_Dad 2

This is one of my all-time favorite shots of my parents. They always had great fashion sense, and I remember my Mom in this dress, going out for a night on the town while us kids stayed home and watched Star Trek reruns. We lived on Mayflower Court, which had a cul-de-sac and all the neighbor’s parents got together a couple times a year and gallivanted from house to house eating and drinking. The social group was called the Good Timers, and I can remember all the great food Mom prepared for the event.


This last one is of Mom before she got sick. Mom, my older brother Tom and I are touring something akin to Colonial Williamsburgh, though I can’t remember exactly now. Mom was fiercely intelligent (having skipped several grades) and was a voracious reader. But I’ll remember her laugh and sense of humor the most. I’ll also never forget the fact that she wanted the best for all her four boys (easier than having daughters, she’d say) and wanted us to pursue our dreams no matter how impossible they might seem.


One of my dreams just came true this past Tuesday, when my debut novel was published. I finally got to publicly thank my Mom for all the love and support she gave me during her short life. I think she would have liked the story, too. The one she inspired a long time ago.

Garbo Sighting: A NYC Rite of Passage

15 Apr

Garbo sighting_3

In my upcoming novel, LOOKING FOR GARBO (Amphorae Publishing, May 7) I write about the uniquely New York City phenomenon known as a “Garbo sighting.” Virtually since the time she retired from Hollywood in 1941 and moved to NYC, people have been talking about sighting the infamously reclusive movie star in her ritual walks throughout the city. But how many of these stories were real, I wonder? How many were actually Garbo?

Garbo sighting

Garbo had numerous tricks to avoid the average passerby: Never make eye contact. Walk in a brisk manner. Keep a perpetual scowl, if not your hand over your mouth at all times.

Garbo sighting_5

The fact that an aging movie star from Hollywood’s golden age could keep the average New Yorker, equally famous for not giving a sh*t about anyone, on the lookout for her lanky, tall-drink-of-water stature, Jackie-O sunglasses and ubiquitous pout – is still something of a mystery to me.

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Maybe it was the very fact that Garbo didn’t want to be recognized that made this particular cat and mouse game so amusing for so many, over so many decades. Garbo acted very much like a caged animal when she was spotted in the wilds of downtown New York, often fleeing as fast as she could when identified with a rude finger-point or, God forbid, a request for an autograph.

Garbo sighting_4

Garbo, all said and done, left her legacy to the films she made in her youth. She didn’t want to be photographed as she got older. She didn’t care what people thought of her, personally. And she never, ever sought out attention from the paparazzi who stalked her relentlessly until her death on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990.

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Garbo lived on her own terms the latter half of her long life, simply because she couldn’t in the first half. She only attained control over her career after she became wildly famous. Then, she called the shots from how much she made a week to how many hours she worked during the workday. Garbo would have none of it and L.B. Mayer knew that if he pushed her too much – she would simply turn around and walk away forever.

Garbo Inspiration

So, this is how Miss Garbo wanted to be remembered. The young, confident, gorgeous goddess of the silver screen inspiring art and love in the silent but deadly Inspiration (1931). And I’m totally okay with that because that’s when I fell in love with her, as well. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted the chance to have seen Garbo on a street corner in New York City back in the day. And if I had, I would have had the good sense and manners to turn and look away before I caught her eye.