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Emergency Medical Services celebrates volunteers: Shelter Island Yacht Club hosts gala event

On Thursday, June 6, the Shelter Island Emergency Medical Services hosted their annual Volunteer EMS Awards Dinner and celebration at the Shelter Island Yacht Club.

Always one of the great nights for Islanders, this year representatives from the Town government, the Police and Fire departments, the EMS Advisory Board, the Shelter Island Ambulance Foundation, along with guests from all walks of life, attended the cocktail reception and dinner.

Awards were given to Volunteer of the Year Chief Mark Kanarvogel, EMT of the Year Mary Kanarvogel, and Driver of the Year Kristin Li Neknez-Dalton.

Chief Kanarvogel was cited for answering an astonishing 90% of calls to the EMS in 2023.

Presenting Ms. Kanarvogel’s EMT of the Year award, EMS Director and Chief of Operations Jack Thilberg said, “This prestigious honor is a testament to your dedication, skill, and the invaluable contributions you have made to our agency. Your leadership qualities are evident in every aspect of your participation. You constantly demonstrate a remarkable ability to mentor both new and seasoned members of our team, fostering an environment of growth and learning. On a personal and professional note, your qualities shine brightly. Your commitment to excellence, compassionate care, and unwavering dedication to the well-being of others, exemplify the highest standards of our professionalism … Your ability to remain calm under pressure, make quick and informed decisions, and provide comfort to those in distress are just a few of the many attributes that make you an outstanding EMT … You have been a pillar of strength, a source of inspiration and a calming force for everyone around you … You clearly demonstrate how dedicated, quality individuals make a profound difference.”  

Ms. Kanarvogel has been with the agency for about 15 years, she told the Reporter after the event. She joined to serve her community, but also, since her husband Mark was a member, thought it would be another personal bond between them. “I‘d read that older married couples should have shared interests, and this was a perfect fit.”

As the Shelter Island School nurse, Ms. Kanarvogel said in becoming an EMS volunteer, she quickly saw she had a new role. “It’s very different from being a nurse,” she said. “Most of nursing is done in hospitals, but EMS work is pre-hospital. We get patients stable and ready to be treated by nurses.”

And as a school nurse in a small town, “I know all the kids, and when there’s an emergency involving a child, if I’m there, they don’t feel so afraid. That’s the best part of it, working with kids.”

She is also the central part of the team when an ambulance is brought to the school or other places to familiarize children with the vehicle, and the care those in medical distress will receive, demonstrating that the procedures should not be perceived as overwhelming or frightening for the youngsters.

“I’m also the CPR instructor for the Island, for the Police Department, the school, restaurants and other places,” Ms. Kanarvogel said. “It always feels good to serve.”

First joining as an EMS driver, she shares the same feelings about that role with Driver of the Year Ms. Neknez-Dalton. “It took a while to feel good about handling the ambulance,” Ms. Kanarvogel said.

Kristina-Li Neknez-Dalton, second from right, receiving her award as Driver of the Year with, from left, Director Thilberg, Chief Kanarvogel, and Assistant Squad Chief Seddio. (Credit: Adam Bundy)

Ms. Neknez-Dalton, agreed, saying that when she volunteered in January 2023, It took a couple of months to completely master handling the ambulance. “I didn’t realize how big the box is back there,” she said with a smile.”

Another thing she shares with Ms. Kanarvogel, is that her spouse, TJ Dalton, was instrumental in her volunteering. Mr. Dalton is a certified paramedic.

An office administrator at the Yacht Club, Ms. Neknez-Dalton said driving is her main responsibility, to get volunteers quickly and safely to the site of a call, and then get everyone safely to a hospital. But there are other responsibilities. “I don’t do patient care, but I’ll take notes on the computer when EMTs are working with a patient.”

The rewards of her work with the EMS are many, she said. “It’s especially rewarding to be able to help people when they’re at they’re most vulnerable. That’s the best part of the job.”

The Shelter Island EMS Diver of the Year is ready to move on within the agency, she said, already enrolled in an EMT class.

Below are more photos by Adam Bundy of the evening.