- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Bob Petrash refuses to slow down.
At 89, Petrash, a New York native, is the oldest emergency services volunteer in the county, if not the state. Petrash moved to Charles County in the late 1980s, shortly before his retirement, and he joined the Cobb Island Volunteer Fire Department in 1988. Eventually, Petrash joined the Charles County Mobile Intensive Care Unit and began running calls with them.
“One of the requisites for being a cardiac rescue technician was you had to be a member with MICU,” Petrash said. “I decided to go ahead and become one.”
Originally, Petrash said, he was interested in becoming a CRT because it would be “something to do.” He had spent some time running with crews in New York and Montgomery County when he and his family lived in those areas, which is what he said originally sparked the interest. Petrash earned his CRT certification in the early 1990s, and continued to operate as one until 2007.
“They wanted to upgrade me to a paramedic, but my feeling was that ... I didn't want to go through the additional training,” he said. “I wanted them to spend that money on a younger person. I decided to revert back to an EMT then.”
Petrash no longer runs with the MICU, but still makes calls to Swan Point with the Cobb Island VFD.
“It keeps my mind active, and keeps me active physically,” Petrash said of why he chooses to keep volunteering.
He said he is currently undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer, but that it has not impacted his volunteering and he does not intend to stop until he absolutely has to.
“I'm going to do it as long as I can,” he said.
Last week, Petrash was honored with an Outstanding Service Award for his dedication to volunteering from the MICU.
“I personally don't think I'm exceptional, but apparently some people think I am,” Petrash said of the award. “I just do what I've been called upon to do. So far I've been fairly successful.”
The satisfaction Petrash derives from his work is fairly straightforward.
“I just like being able to take care of the patient's problems and bringing a viable patient over to the hospital,” Petrash said. “I remember when I was a new CRT, one of the first calls I had was a man who had been shot in La Plata during the ugly winter months. I got on the scene, and the individual was shot in the belly. We got him to the hospital and he survived, but it was scary as can be.”
Petrash said he always found it challenging trying to predict what he and his fellow volunteers would find on arrival at a scene.
“It might sound like the simplest call, but then you arrive and it's much more complex than anyone thought,” he said. “You never know what you're getting into. It's hard to tell.”
When handling patients, Petrash said he takes a simple approach.
“I found that a little tender loving care goes a long way to putting them at ease,” he said. “Merely holding someone's hand can go a long way to making them more receptive to the care that they need.”
“He's a unique individual,” said Margaret Wedding, a longtime friend of Petrash's who volunteered alongside him.
Wedding, who presented Petrash with the award last week, noted that he did not just volunteer with the different departments. Wedding said Petrash also volunteered for a time with Wayside Episcopal Church and found various other ways to stay active, including becoming a docent, a person who dresses up in costume and leads guided tours of historical areas.
“Whatever he could do, he did,” Wedding said. “He was so interested in Charles County that he learned its history. ... He just always wanted to do more, and he always tells people how he wants to do more.”
Wedding said that Petrash's titles and accolades during his more active years of service were numerous, including serving as the MICU's acting chief and winning several regional awards.
“He did some of everything and he did a lot. He ran every week,” Wedding said. “The thing that makes him so unique is that he's done all these things, and he's just a wonderful man. He's just done so much, and a lot of what he's done, he's been older than 65.”
Wedding said she wants to see Petrash in the state's Emergency Services Hall of Fame, and that she also plans to write a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) asking that Petrash be recognized at the state level for all that he has done.
“He's so deserving. I think his last hoorah, if you will, should be recognition from the state,” Wedding said. “We have this man who wandered down here and decided to get involved. You don't find them any better or more dedicated than him. I'm proud and honored to be his friend.”