Matt Montanile recognized by EMT peers on Martha’s Vineyard

Matt Montanile became an EMT before he finished college, and he hasn't looked back. "I'm very lucky to be doing what I love," he said. — Photo by Jack Shea

Matt Montanile did not want to do this interview, but he did it anyway.

The Vineyard Haven resident loves what he does as an Island paramedic and emergency medical technician (EMT), but he doesn’t like calling attention to himself. Unfortunately, his efficient and understated manner led his Island EMT colleagues to select the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School chemistry teacher as the Island’s EMT of the Year.

Early last Saturday night when Mr. Montanile finished a shift up-Island and returned to his base in Vineyard Haven to begin an overnight shift, colleagues Tracey Jones, Chris Cini, and shift partner Jason Hallett convinced Mr. Montanile to share his thoughts on his life of community service as paid paramedic in summer and a volunteer all winter.

Perhaps because of the nature of their work, EMTs are a straightforward bunch with an element of urgency about them. Ms. Jones, Mr. Cini, and shift partner Mr. Hallett would not relent until the soft-spoken Mr. Montanile sat on a futon in the tiny EMT office attached to the Tisbury police station and talked about his work while waiting for the inevitable Saturday night emergencies.

“It’s busy right now, no question about that,” he said, taking a breather while waiting for the next call that would send him and Mr. Hallett scrambling to the ambulance and howling out of the garage to handle God knows what.

It takes about two years of school to become an EMT, then a paramedic. “I’ve been an EMT for about five years,” the 2009 graduate of Bridgewater State University said. Mr. Montanile received his paramedic license last February after completing course work at Cape Cod Community College.

He is a welcome addition to the ranks of about 120 emergency medical response personnel, staff and volunteer, on the Island. State law requires that a paramedic is on duty at all times. In the summer that means up to 10 shifts a week for Mr. Montanile between Tri-Town Ambulance Service, which covers the three up-Island towns, and at the Tisbury EMT base. Including Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, there are four emergency medical units on the Island. Tri-Town Ambulance handles the three up-Island towns. Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown each have two or three full-time paramedics supported by volunteers, particularly in mid-summer when sirens make downtown Vineyard Haven sound like midtown Manhattan.

According to Jeff Pratt, ambulance service director for Tisbury and an EMT instructor, the service responds to more than 650 times year. “It can sound scary when it’s busy, but calls are about even with last year so far,” he said. “I’ll tell you this, the demand never goes down.” He added that the four services help each other out in peak demand periods.

That may be part of the reason Mr. Montanile’s recognition is such a big deal to his colleagues. “He knows what he’s doing. If my mum was sick, those are the two (Montanile and Hallett) I’d want to see coming through the door,” Ms. Jones said with her faint Lancashire accent.

Mr. Montanile began EMT training after his freshman year at BSU. “Actually I wanted to be a pilot, he said. “That’s why I went to Bridgewater, which has a great pilot training program. That didn’t work out and I was looking for something rewarding to do.

“My mother saw a notice for EMT training on the Island and suggested I look at it,” he recalled. “Jeff Pratt sponsored me and I began taking the course,” which he juggled with a full college load.

In his early 20s still, Mr. Montanile is now an experienced guy already. He’s noticed that the number of high-acuity calls are rising. “That’s not just here, that’s everywhere,” he said. “The majority of responses are for seniors. We may a few more here on the Cape and Islands because we are a retirement destination. And seniors typically won’t call unless they are really in trouble.” The number of Priority 1 and 2 calls — the most acute needs — now accounts for 50 percent of Tisbury’s calls, Mr. Pratt said on Monday.

At the Martha Vineyard Association of EMTs very democratic dinner earlier this summer, the 120 members had a chance to nominate EMT of the Year from the floor. “Matt won unanimously. He was actually working that night and missed the dinner, so he didn’t have to stand there, embarrassed and red-faced,” Mr. Pratt chuckled, noting the award has been bestowed for at least 20 years.

The emergency techs we spoke with were very clear that the award goes to EMTs they’d want in their vehicle on a call. Mr. Cini said the criteria for the award are peer judgments. “I voted for Matt because I’d seen how he performs on a call and off the job in the community,” he said.

Mr. Montanile feels rewarded by his job. “I don’t recall having any particular set of expectations when I began, but I enjoy this work a lot. I’m very lucky to be doing what I love,” he said, adding ” Will I always do this? I don’t know, but I know that I will always keep my ticket (license).”

As technology provides more assessment tools and medications for emergency treatments, Mr. Montanile says his science background is helpful. “It’s good to be able to know what’s going on at the cellular level, so to that extent, a biology background is helpful. We carry 30 or 40 different meds, mostly for cardiac cases,” he said, noting his team had a cardiac “save” last week. “You never know what you will be looking at. The man was in the prime of life but he just got in trouble.”

Mr. Montanile acknowledged that the work tends to foster tight bonds among EMTs. “You have to have a certain level of trust, a confidence that we have each other’s back,” he said. “These relationships are as important as any friendships I have.”

The feeling is clearly mutual.

This story was updated on July 29 and August 9 to reflect the correct name of Mr. Montanile’s colleague, Chris Cini.