'This is where I was called to be and this is my purpose': SoCal first responders describe battling coronavirus in New York

NEW YORK (KABC) -- A paramedic and an EMT work for the same company in Southern California but crossed paths for the first time on the East Coast after stepping up to help.

"New York needs medics and EMTs out there. We're calling you to see if you'd be willing to come out here," paramedic Veronnica Alvarado of Chino recalled from the phone call she received.

Alvarado and EMT Nicholas Smith of Oak Park have now been there for more than a month.

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"Community spread" means the virus was locally contracted, not from traveling to a foreign country or by being in close proximity who recently traveled to a foreign country.

"Our average is about 17 hours a day, but we've had shifts where we've worked 36 hours a day," said Alvarado.

The gravity of the situation quickly sank in.

"You come on scene and you do CPR for 10 minutes and then you call it because our EMS system is so backed up that now you have to go to the next one...now we're taking more time, it's 20 minutes," she described.

They hope people watching here at home heed the warnings.

"I can understand the frustrations of the protesters. It does make sense to me. However, I didn't understand the gravity of the situation until I was in it," said Smith.

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A candlelight vigil was held outside a hospital in Hollywood Wednesday evening to honor a nurse who died two days after testing positive for the coronavirus.

A sobering reality was losing fellow first responders. They know their lives are on the line.

"This is where I was called to be and this is my purpose, and I know that if I get sick and I pass away from this, then you know, this is part of my story," Alvarado said.

Both first responders come from families who have also been on the front lines.

"My mother was one of the first female firefighters for L.A. city," shared Alvarado.

What keeps them pushing forward is the support of family and strangers, including the daily cheers from New Yorkers expressing their gratitude for first responders.

"I can still feel it like in my chest...oh my gosh this is for all of us here," said Alvarado. "It's a wonderful feeling being able to help those in need and just actually feel like we're making a difference," Smith said.

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