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Forgoing retirement to help in Maine's vaccination effort

At 72-years-old, William "Doc" Sakal is one of many to ditch retirement to help their communities get vaccinated.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — The vaccination effort in Maine has been a massive undertaking, involving various state departments, hospitals, pharmacies, emergency management, and EMS services. Hundreds of volunteers have stepped up to be part of the effort, some even coming out of retirement to help administer shots.

"You’re seeing EMS providers, nurses, healthcare providers, physicians all working together, documenting in the same electronic health record, with one purpose," says Dr. Michael Schmitz, with Maine Health. "To bring the vaccine where it’s needed."

The first step was getting those healthcare members vaccinated. While hospitals set up for the next steps, Emergency Medical Services – or EMS agencies - stepped up too, offering firefighters and EMTs the chance to help administer shots to each other, then to the members of their surrounding communities. 

"Pretty much every fire and EMS agency in York county has had people get involved in this," says Roger Hooper, York County Fire Administrator. We’ve actually covered every end of the county to get folks to step up to do this work."

"When I’m not at work at the fire station I’m generally doing this here, at the mobile site, or in Sanford," says one EMS volunteer, Nancy Piche. "It’s the right thing to do, and I want to be part of that."

Pat Camire agrees, "Well I’ve been retired for five years and when this whole Covid pandemic happened I thought, 'You know? I haven’t given shots in a long time but I could do this. It’s like riding a bike,' And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. But I really felt I needed to do that for the community."

While volunteers working at the Biddeford High School clinic range in age and experience, there is one that tends to stand out in the crowd. 

"Doc Sakal. William Sakal," says Hooper. "He’s a great guy. He’s been around a long time and he’s a very smart man. He’s very dedicated to what he does."

"Doc has been someone who first got his vaccination through the Kennebunk Fire Department and then re-upped his EMS license to provide vaccinations to other EMS providers, and from there he has been volunteering to vaccinate in the community, to vaccinate in schools, and to vaccinate in nursing homes and long-term care facilities," adds Dr. Schmitz. "And his story is remarkable." 

Doc Sakal's story is remarkable, in part, because... "For a basic EMT it’s 54 hours of continuing education credits and then a couple of skills labs to renew your EMT license," Hooper explains. 

It's also remarkable because Sakal is 72-years-old. 

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"I started in New York - actually I’m still a member there - and then I moved here and immediately joined Kennebunk Fire and Rescue, again as an EMT mostly," Sakal explains. And not that he – or anyone – ever saw a pandemic like this coming, any good EMT is ready for anything. 

"My plan was always to keep my license as long as I could in the case that something like this actually happens, not knowing what was going to happen or when," says Sakal. "I wouldn’t be very happy if I was sitting at home with a lapsed license and having the town looking for someone with a license just like mine to help out."

Sakal bounces from clinic to clinic in York County, volunteering to help administer shots or keep an eye on the patients. "He brings a calm," Hooper says. "There’s a lot of folks that get anxious about this, but he brings a calm aura to the process."

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