It’s hard to think of Escalon Community Ambulance (ECA) without two names immediately springing to mind: Mike Pitassi and Tina Van Houten. The two have served as the backbone of the organization for years, and at a special ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 11, the Escalon Community Ambulance building on Ullrey Avenue will officially be re-named in their honor. The new Pitassi/Van Houten Station House will pay homage to their dedication to serving the community and providing quality care to its residents.
ECA is also currently conducting its annual membership drive and is encouraging current members to renew and new families and individuals to join up as members. A pancake breakfast set for Sept. 11 will be served at the station (free to ECA members) from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., with help from the local Escalon Sunrise Rotary Club.
“While the focus will be on providing breakfast to ECA members and staff, the breakfast will be open to the community at large,” noted ECA Board President Jerry Emery. “Several raffle prizes will be drawn from a barrel of all current ECA members, and include a TV, a computer, and tickets to a sky box at a Stockton Thunder game. Community members who wish to join ECA can do so anytime on-line, at the station house, and at this ceremony on Sept. 11. The Board of Directors would also like to thank Dugo Signs for their efforts on the new sign above the doors of the station house.”
Escalon Community Ambulance has been serving the community of Escalon for more than 50 years. In advance of the Sept. 11 celebration and official re-naming of the station, fellow emergency medical services worker Sonya Severo of Riggs Ambulance Service in Merced visited with both Pitassi and Van Houten and put their thoughts and observations together for the following article.
With commitment to excellence, ECA has created a strong presence with a culture of dedication and high quality patient care among its emergency medical services professionals. Intertwined in the rich history of ECA are two people who have made a lifetime career providing patient care to the citizens of Escalon, Mike Pitassi and Tina Van Houten.
Mike Pitassi is currently the Chief of ECA. He started his career in EMS in 1975. At an early age, his father was a volunteer firefighter and he watched an ambulance crew working on a patient at a fatal accident and something just clicked. It was then that he knew this is what he wanted to do with his life. He took the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class during his senior year in high school and started working on an ambulance company the day he turned 18 years old.
Pitassi prayed about his career choice and believes he was called to do this kind of work. He believes this career is rewarding and he is honored to serve the Escalon community, the people, and his patients.
“Our patients, their lives, their triumphs, trials, their sufferings are intimate and I am honored to serve them in their time of need,” noted Pitassi.
He said he is also very thankful for the people he works with. For EMS professionals, there is comfort in working with other people who understand what goes on daily in an ambulance. For Pitassi, he admires all of the people he gets to work with, paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, nurses, and doctors.
“They are all amazing,” he said.
One of Pitassi’s most memorable moments at ECA is when the station was built. It was six years after he had begun his career at Escalon. The ECA station has been the training ground for many young men and women over the years and Pitassi is very proud to be part of an organization that has helped so many people start their careers in EMS.
Working for ECA has allowed Pitassi to be close with his family and he said it is humbling for him to be able to serve a community where his children were raised. EMS also runs in the family; his wife Karen is currently a paramedic with Oak Valley Hospital District and two of their sons have become paramedics as well.
Alongside Pitassi at ECA is Tina Van Houten, Senior Paramedic. She has worked at ECA for 30 years. She had known some people from her church who were volunteers for ECA and she had always found it interesting when their pagers would go off in church. Van Houten shared that she would wonder about what sort of excitement the volunteers would be encountering.
Her real interest in EMS, however, would not come until one of her sons had an accident. When her boys were little, they liked to rough house like most kids do. One day, one of her boys hit his head on the fireplace hearth causing a laceration to his forehead. Van Houten said she was clueless on what to do, so with the assistance of her mother, they took her son to the doctor and he got stitches on his forehead. After this incident in 1985, Van Houten figured she needed some first aid training so she took an EMT class. A few weeks after she finished her class, she received a call from Joan Lewis Tilbury, the manager of ECA at the time who asked her if she wanted to help ECA.
In 1988, she became a paramedic, which is one of the highlights of her career because it was a real challenge for her. Van Houten said she would not have been able to complete school without the help of her husband Marty, her neighbor Mrs. Iola Parsons, and her in-laws. She is very thankful for all of their help during that challenging time.
“I was one of the older students in my class (30 years old) and I had two very little boys I was trying to raise, go to work, and go to school,” she said.
Van Houten’s commitment to leading and teaching other paramedics motivates her to be successful. She has found that it takes great strength to be a leader in EMS especially in stressful situations when others are looking for directions and answers. According to Van Houten, she likes situations that are challenging and she enjoys working through difficult calls with all emergency services professionals including fire departments and law enforcement agencies that make it easier for her to do her job.
Van Houten added that she has had and continues to have a rewarding career at ECA. She likes the people she gets to meet and work with and treasures the ability to be there when someone needs help.
“The job is not all lights and sirens, life and death. Sometimes, people just do not feel good or have fallen and need assistance,” said Van Houten.
The longtime ECA staffer said she feels that God has blessed her with the ability to help others and has given her the strength to deal with the sorrow EMS professionals often encounter. She also feels blessed by the happiness that helping others brings her and said she believes that God has blessed ECA over the years with good people and strong community support to help it thrive.
Van Houten has been married almost 40 years to her husband Marty and she has two sons; her son Jeff has worked for ECA in the past and is currently a Captain for Stockton Fire. She has lived in the Escalon community since she got married. Her sons were raised in the Escalon community, so she too, is happy to provide patient care to so many people she knows and loves.