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Shirley Young: Medical educator has helped save countless lives

Shirley Young
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

When it comes to serving her community, Shirley Young has been around the block a few times — literally.

The retired Flatlands Volunteer Ambulance Corps member and emergency medical technician instructor has helped to save countless lives in her decades of volunteering with the rescue unit.

Young was on the move from the get-go, graduating early from high school before enrolling in a nursing program. She worked as a registered nurse for many years, but it wasn’t a perfect fit.

“In those days, you didn’t question the doctors,” she says.

She eventually found her calling while reading an article in the local paper concerning the lengthy response times for emergency medical services in Brooklyn.

“There was an appeal made for volunteers,” says Young. “I saw the need and I filled it.”

In 1974 she joined the fledgling corps as an ambulance dispatcher, quickly progressing to attendant and then crew chief — the person responsible for everyone on the ambulance.

The unit now has three ambulances, but in those early days things were different.

“We originally had only an old Cadillac van to run with,” recalls Young. “Someone who belonged to the corps worked for a body shop, and they converted it so we were able to take a folding cot in and out of it.”

Ambulance work is not for the squeamish, and Young has seen plenty of car accidents and heart attack victims. But there were lighter moments as well.

“We had calls of people wanting to be transported some place and we had to explain that wasn’t our purpose—that’s what car service was for,” she laughs.

Late one memorable night her daughter-in-law called at 3:30 am — in labor. Shirley went with a crew, including her husband, who was an attendant. They made it to the hospital, but not before delivering a beautiful baby girl on site.

When Young took a hiatus in 1977, it was only to fill another need — volunteering to teach emergency first aid to coast guards on Governor’s and Fire islands. Young returned to the corps in 1991, staying on until her retirement in 2011.

Crew Captain Fred Wilken describes Young as a caring person.

“Shirley’s there for every special event we have,” he says. “I wish she was still working with us, I would love to have her back.”

Along her incredible journey this Woman of Distinction has received a 25-year community service award from Borough Hall and an American Red Cross Humanitarian Award, among several others. She has also been active in many community organizations, including Brooklyn College’s Institute for Retirees in the Pursuit of Education, where she taught first aid and computer classes, and served as president for many years — just because.

“I just did it because it needed to be done,” says Young.

Neighborhood: Flatlands.

Occupation: Retired medical educator.

Company: Flatlands Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Claim to Fame: “Being an ambulance corps member, EMT instructor, writer, poet, choral singer, and soloist.”

Favorite Brooklyn Place: “Aboard the Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. That’s where my husband proposed to me. I said if I lived to get off, I would marry him!”

Woman I Admire: “My second grade teacher, Mrs. Berland, who instilled in all her students the idea that helping one another in difficult as well as happy times was the only way to make your life worthwhile.

Motto: “See the need and fill it.”

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