PITTSTON — Clutching the handheld microphone and bouncing his knee up and down, an unusually anxious Jack Lasky prepared to broadcast over Luzerne County 911 for the last time as a member of Medic 303.
The tight-knit advanced life support unit that touched the lives of over 50,000 patients in the Pittston area over the course of its more than three-decade run was signing off for the last time and Lasky, seated in the EMS unit’s front seat, was to deliver the final farewell.
The unit’s legacy, Lasky said during the Dec. 2 broadcast, was in the lives saved and brought into the world by its members, who logged over 1,500 years combined EMS experience. Lasky then thanked the region and fellow EMS units for their support. They will be missed, he said.
“303 is now signing off the air,” Lasky concluded.
Presented earlier this month, the two-minute video of Lasky’s farewell over Luzerne County 911 radio channels, recorded by his daughter, Jonelle Kime, has been shared on Facebook nearly 500 times and has more than 26,000 views.
Medic 303, which had 24 members before signing off this month, was nixed mainly due to a change in the company’s care model, Lasky said recently in an interview at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center.
Like other quick response units, Medic 303 provided care to patients while an ambulance was en route to the scene of an emergency. As the number of local ambulance companies dropped off, other units started that didn’t depend as much on others for help, Lasky explained.
“We understand things change,” he said.
The hardest part, he added, was leaving behind the communities served and the relationships shared between fellow members.
A married father of two, Lasky, 60, said the camaraderie forged by crew members over the years was crucial to remaining strong — and sane — in a profession where sights and circumstances can often be traumatic.
“The things you see out there can be pretty horrendous at times,” said Lasky, who oversees Geisinger’s EMS program. “Working together with people like this forms a bond. Sometimes just to keep our sanity, we need that bond.”
Marty Mahon, an original volunteer turned member of Medic 303, said countless calls and situations stick in his memory — some good, some bad.
“I think the nicest thing was when you took care of somebody and they came back and thanked you,” he recalled.
A flight paramedic at Geisinger, Mahon, 49, was recruited to become a volunteer at the age of 14. Back then, things were different, he said.
“When we started this, we all had other jobs because this was all volunteer,” he said. “We went through class knowing we didn’t have jobs. We all worked on community ambulances together over the years.”
“It was all about being a volunteer and helping the community,” he added.
Mahon said some of his best friends are from the towns the unit served, many who still call him for advice.
David Schoenwetter, medical director of emergency medical services for Geisinger Health System, credited the unit for playing an “integral role” in advancing emergency care in the community throughout its run.
The unit first went into service in 1984. Known then as the North Region Joint Ambulance Unit Medic 303, the unit was housed in Hughestown Fire Station No. 1 on Center Street after the station’s members offered to build a special annex to house them.
Just two years into its run, Medic 303 began to struggle financially.
Geisinger, in 1986, stepped in and offered a deal to keep Medic 303 running full time, providing equipment or vehicles needed to carry out its service. Lasky was chosen to lead the unit’s day-to-day operations.
A new facility was built on Main Street, Pittston, in 1991.
“We commend everyone associated with Medic 303 over the years for attaining this long history of service,” Schoenwetter said, noting the area will not be without a Geisinger-led paramedic program.
Schoenwetter said the Mobile Health Paramedic Program, like Medic 303, will provide a “nimble, flexible, clinical resource that can deploy rapidly and provide a focused clinical service to the appropriate patient.”
The program, with Mahon as its coordinator, was recently named the 2015 Emergency Care Innovation of the Year by Urgent Matters and the American College of Emergency Physicians.
With the mobile health unit, the Pittston area will remain in good hands, just as it was for the past 29 years, Mahon said.
It was a good run, Mahon and Lasky agreed.
“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else,” Lasky added.
Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL