Octavio retiring after 40 years behind ambulance wheel

LIHU‘E —Ambulances are seen in communities around Kaua‘i on a daily basis, often with sirens blaring on the way to a hospital.

Zach Octavio, the Kaua‘i Operations Manager for American Medical Response, has been behind the wheel of ambulances for more than 40 years and will be retiring at the end of National Emergency Services Week May 20 through May 26.

The national observance with a theme of “EMS: More than a Job. A Calling” brings together local communities and medical personnel to publicize safety and honor the dedication of those who provide the day-to-day lifesaving services of medicine’s “front line,” states the American College of Emergency Physicians website.

Octavio has been leading the team of AMR paramedics and staff that provides a blanket of timely medical response islandwide, literally a demonstration of “a calling,” as he is a familiar figure at football games, the county fair and numerous other community events.

“I think it’s time for the old school to make room for the younger ideas,” Octavio said, recollecting his years of working with ambulances since 1971.

At that time, he was a driver with Physicians Ambulance at the Kaua‘i Veterans Memorial Hospital until 1979, when Physicians was acquired by International Life Support.

ILS itself was later acquired by AMR in 1997, and Octavio said ILS is still incorporated into the legal operating name of the ambulance service on Kaua‘i.

Currently, AMR operates five stations including sites in Waimea, Po‘ipu, Lihu‘e, Kapa‘a and Kilauea. The ambulances are manned on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-day-a-week basis by a staff of 30 full-time and 14 part-time employees, Octavio said.

When Octavio retires officially on May 25, Tito Villanueva, an AMR paramedic since 1993, will assume the duties of the Kaua‘i Operations Manager.

“He blew in with Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992,” Octavio said. “Ever since then, he’s been on the job and training.”

In addition to being on call for 911 calls, AMR also has a presence at Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation football games, Garden Isle Racing Association’s monthly drag races at Kaua‘i Raceway Park in Mana and the motocross races in Wailua.

“This does not include the numerous other community events where AMR volunteers, such as parades, career days at different schools, school safety and awareness presentations, the Kaua‘i County Farm Bureau Fair — where crews are available for the full four-day run of the event — and the Kids Fest keiki injury prevention event,” Octavio said.

Andy the Ambulance joined the AMR ‘ohana about 10 years ago; the remotely-operated mascot draws admiring crowds of keiki eager to “play” with the mascot.

More recently, AMR acquired an Easy Golf Cart Ambulance, which will be incorporated into the coverage AMR provides at KIF football games, Octavio said; the vehicle was featured during the Lights on Rice parade as well as the more recent Troy Barboza Memorial Torch Run for Special Olympics.

“The new vehicle is smaller, more mobile and less destructive to the stadium surfaces in its response to incidents,” he said. “This should be a welcome addition to the work being provided by the AMR crews.”

AMR primarily provides Kaua‘i with responses to 911 emergencies, as well as transport of non-emergency medical patients, in many instances to a waiting air ambulance for transport to an off-island facility.

Hawai‘i Life Flight provides the air ambulance service and, in honor of National EMS Week, joins the local community in congratulating those who provide the day-to-day lifesaving emergency services.

Hawai‘i Life Flight has been serving the State of Hawai‘i since 1979. Owner Joseph Hunt purchasing Hawai‘i Air Ambulance in May 2006 to improve safety, reliability and responsiveness of the company to give the people of Hawai‘i an air medical transportation company worthy of their trust and support.

The vision of Hawai‘i Life Flight is to decrease wait times and ensure safe, efficient and reliable response from its six bases throughout the state including Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i, Kahului, Maui, Honolulu, Kamuela, Hilo and Kona on the Big Island.

A good example of the benefits of EMS is Ramon Garza of Kekaha, states the Hawai‘i Life Flight release.

In March, 2011, Garza awoke and asked his wife Ruthie to take him to the Emergency Room. While she got ready to take him to the ER, he fell to the ground, and following the response of the 911 call, the fire department and ambulance got him to the hospital where it was decided Garza had suffered a heart attack and needed to be transported to O‘ahu.

A Hawai‘i Life Flight medical crew showed up and Garza and Ruthie were taken to the Lihu‘e Airport for the Life Flight transport.

After three days in an O‘ahu hospital, Garza recuperated and was released in good condition, now enjoying life with his wife and family.

“I have come to realize that being offered this service has been a blessing for our ‘ohana,” Garza said in the Hawai‘i Life Flight release. “We have 14 mo‘opuna, or grandchildren, with one more on the way, and living to see them grow up is truly a gift.”

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@ thegardenisland.com.

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