Q & A: Rafael Castellanos, president of Central Park Medical Unit

January 28, 2011
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Central Park Medical Unit team members extricate a 20-year-old female after a fall from a rock in a remote southern portion of Central Park, resulting in a severe spinal injury. The patient was treated and transported by resources from the all-volunteer Central Park Medical Unit to a trauma center.

The truth is we started this blog for you guys. We wanted to provide relevant content to you, not only about title insurance and related issues, but also about the great city in which we live.

We also wanted to get to know you guys a little bit better — and share a little bit about ourselves as well. Rafael Castellanos, managing partner of Expert Title Insurance Agency, has a passion for his role within the company, but has another passion that few people may know about: the Central Park Medical Unit.

Rafael has been an EMT member of the CPMU for more than 30 years and now serves as president of the organization. “Hopefully, I can go for another 30 years of service?” he asked in a recent e-mail interview with me. The more he talks about the role of the CPMU in the city, the more you begin to understand how impactful it has been.

Rafael answered a few more questions about the Central Park Medical Unit and how local residents can chip in and ensure it’s able to continue to serve New York City.

What prompted you to join the CPMU?

I grew up in the northern section of the Park. I had seen may nice folks hurt and unfortunately they had to wait anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive to take them to a hospital. I took an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class back in 1979 and joined the Central Park Medical Unit. Today the Central Park Medical Unit (CPMU) continues to hold the State record for the fastest response time in the State of New York, usually in under three life saving minutes.

When and how did you become president?

In 1992 our then president, Arthur Q. Funn, an attorney with the Long Island Lighting Company retired and moved to New Mexico. When he retired and left, he recommended that I run for president. The membership has bestowed the privilege upon me to serve and remain as president since 1992.

What do your duties entail?

There are many duties as president. First and foremost we need money to keep us going. While our operating and capital budgets are very modest we are not professional fund raisers and we all have day jobs so it is challenge. We give out approximately $2.5 million dollars in free care every year yet we do not bill or invoice our patients.

Rafael Castellanos is the president of the Central Park Medical Unit.

Since our volunteer ambulance service is on par with the FDNY EMS ambulance service I need to ensure that we are in compliance with all Federal, State and City regulations as well as our bylaws. In addition, we serve as a training corps for new EMT’s on their way to becoming full time EMS workers. Trust me I cannot take credit for all these responsibilities. We have a great team and everyone helps and we all take great pride in getting out team tasks accomplished in an exemplary way.

Are there any particularly memorable rescues you can share?

According to the Central Park Conservancy Central Park is host to more than 35 million visitors each year. Each patient we encounter is unique. Many lives have been saved from the 2 year old non breathing asthmatic child who now has the rest of their life to look forward to the grandfather who had a heart attack and crashed his car into a wall and he now has a second chance at seeing his grandchildren grow and mature into the future of America.

Yet one of the most memorable cases was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001. The magnitude of patients was never before seen. They were two very sad days in our history.

How is the CPMU able to provide their services for free? How can people help support the group?

CPMU is able to provide it services for free because we are very efficient with the limited resources that we have. We have a very modest annual operating budget of approximately $110,000 and each ambulance has a capital cost of approximately $140,000 to $280,000 depending on the model and they usually have a life span of at least 10 years. In addition, every dollar donated to the Medical Unit goes right back into the operation of the Unit. No portion is used for administrative overhead.

We welcome donations in any amount and also ask if maybe you know a corporation or an individual who might be in position to help us then please let us know.  CPMU does not receive any financial support from New York City, New York State or the Federal Government.

Why do you think it’s important for a group like CPMU to exist?

CPMU was never meant to take the place of the regular Emergency Medical Services however we serve an exceptional population with its own unique geography. Central Park Medical for more than 35 years has continued to be the frontline Emergency Medical Service for thousands of calls for emergency assistance to Central Park’s sick and injured. At over 840 acres of open space Central Park is located in the center of Manhattan Island and is home to a reservoir, several large performance venues, a fully operating zoo, numerous military monuments, a carousel, a swimming pool, and two ice skating rinks making it the world’s busiest park.

Additionally, the Central Park Medical Unit has been called upon for major New York City incidents including both the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center along with various emergencies including the blackout in 2003 and most recently the Blizzard of 2010.

Is there a need for volunteers? What kind?

There is always a need for CPMU volunteers. Our team is comprised of more than 150 unpaid local community trained volunteers whose backgrounds range from professional EMT’s, paramedics, nurses, doctors to business executives, college students, active and retired law enforcement as well as those who are unemployed and seeking a start in new careers. We also seek non medical volunteers who specialize in public relations and fund raising.

Anything else you’d like to add?

CPMU resources have been captured in uncountable photographs by local, national and international travelers alike that come annually to visit the “Jewel of New York City” because of its unique position of being the only volunteer ambulance corps open to anyone to join. CPMU has been the subject of numerous TV and print news stories. Articles have been seen in the New York Times, New York Daily News and the New York Post as well as CNN, NBC and ABC. CPMU has also made multiple cameo appearances on the hit TV series such as Law and Order. Several short videos as well as news stories are available on our official website.

This post is brought to you by the good folks at Expert Title Insurance Agency. We would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.

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6 Responses to Q & A: Rafael Castellanos, president of Central Park Medical Unit

  1. Mike Ussak on January 29, 2011 at 12:23 am

    Congratulations to Rafael and all the CPMU members. As one of the founders and CPMU’s first president (and for 10 years thereafter) I am proud of CPMU’s continued success and growth and grateful to have been a part of it’s history. Carry on!

  2. chuck on January 29, 2011 at 12:56 am

    Go Rafael !!!!! Keep up all the good work, all of your old classmates are proud. Chuck Pro 78

  3. Zully on January 29, 2011 at 3:22 am

    Hey Rafa, Thank you for all you do. Central Park would not be the same without CPMU.

  4. Ernie Strauss on January 29, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Way to go Rafael. You do us all proud.

  5. Alex on February 1, 2011 at 2:03 am

    New York and the World need more people like you! We love you. Alex & Liana

  6. [...] January, we gave you, our readers, a glimpse into the life of Expert Title managing partner Rafael Castellanos, who also happens to be the president of the Central Park Medical Unit. The CPMU provides more than [...]

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