When people call for an ambulance in Sackets Harbor, New York — and the crew shows up at their door — almost everyone has the same reaction.
"A lot of people just come up and ask you, 'Wait, how old are you?'" Cooper Antonson said.
"'You're the EMT?!'" Grayden Brunet said of how people have reacted.
"We just explain to them — we are the ambulance," Niklas Brazie said.
These baby-faced first responders took over the town's Emergency Medical Services not long after COVID-19 hit, when all the older EMS volunteers either couldn't — or wouldn't — do the job anymore.
That exodus is part of a national trend. In rural America, 35% of ambulance services are all-volunteer. And 69% of those departments say they're struggling to find help.
Fortunately, in Sackets Harbor, desperation led to inspiration. In New York State you can become an EMT at 17, and you can start assisting when you're even younger. When a group of local high schoolers heard that, they decided to step up, took the required training and resuscitated the department.
"We went from not even having our licenses to saving people's lives," Dalton Hardison said.
"Being able to help those people – I really like that," Reese Mono said.
And by all accounts they are doing that. Whether you've fallen off a ladder, have severe chest pains or can barely breathe, this group of teens and young adults save the day — almost every day.
They are sacrificing much of their free time and surrendering some of their innocence, and they say the hardest part is telling people their loved one is gone.
"It's like time freezes and everything stops, and that's one of the hardest things to do, for sure," Brunet said. "Yea, it's hard. Who else is there to do it if we don't? Someone needs to. Someone needs to step up and do it."