In Remembrance: Bruce Mandel

A good friend remembers Bruce Mandel, Chief of the Maplewood Volunteer First Aid Squad.

Bruce Mandel, Chief of the Maplewood Volunteer First Aid Squad, . Here, friend and FAS colleague Stephen Morris remembers Bruce.

I met Bruce in April 2005; he recruited me into the Maplewood First Aid Squad.  For the next five years, most of my calls were with him. He taught me what I know about being an EMT. And he made me a better person.       

He taught me the art of focused calm. No one was calmer, more reassuring in an emergency, and at the same, no one more focused on what needed to be done first.  New EMTs have all had the experience of going blank in the face of a real emergency.  It was a gift to have Bruce there in those moments, gently, patiently, but with no wasted motion or words, bringing you back to the procedure, reminding you of what you know.  

Being an EMT was a calling to Bruce. "Neighbors helping neighbors" might sound trite.  You would never think so again if you knew Bruce and had seen him in action. His profound belief in and dedication to what he was doing was the reason he was willing to give anyone a chance to join the calling. 

Few of us could measure to the ideal of devotion that he defined. But he never made you feel smaller or lesser for that failing. To the contrary: he was a natural teacher. He was constantly stepping back, creating the space where you could step forward, showing you in the process that you could do it too, you too could be the neighbor helping his or her neighbors — G-d's work, in the truest sense.  

Sometimes his appearance on the scene had a supernatural quality. During the few (and to him, precious) hours he had off-duty, he would often keep the dispatcher's radio on. 

I remember a chaotic call one late Friday — rain, two cars collided, several patients, Fire Department performing a complicated extraction. In my initial survey of the scene, I started feeling overwhelmed. I remember thinking to myself, "G-d, I wish Bruce were here." And suddenly, Bruce appeared. He figured we needed help. 

That's about all it took for Bruce: a crackling dispatcher's voice in the background, dryly narrating misery on the roads of Maplewood. He'd drop what he was doing in his well-earned leisure and come help. Neighbors helping neighbors: and one neighbor above all others.  

There is a Jewish tradition about 36 righteous people — the lamed vovnik — whose role in life is to justify the purposes of humankind in the eyes of G-d. Their identities are unknown, even to each other, and of course, they are too humble to claim such a mantle. I am pretty sure Bruce was one of the lamed vovnik — an observation that would have prompted Bruce to smile and roll his eyes. But it's hard to imagine someone more completely realizing the ideals of righteousness and humility in a human life than Bruce did.             

— Stephen Morris 


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