If there’s one thing I know, it’s pressure.
There’s the pressure of watching Steelers football, the pressure of meeting a nice, Jewish girl so my parents can stop bothering me, even the pressure of reading Torah at Beth Shalom in front of a rigid crowd of friends and relatives.
Life is truly a challenge, but I think it’s safe to say I live and breathe pressure.
And though I now live amidst a relaxing blend of calming palm trees, a soothing ocean and an impeccable climate, I’ve never lost sight of the high-pressure situations that shaped my adolescent development in Pittsburgh.
Neither has expatriate Pittsburgher Steve Cohen, who is a master at handling pressure.
Serving as the chief of Cary Area Emergency Medical Services in Cary, N.C., Cohen, 47, is consistently required to respond to emergency situations.
“I have skills when it comes to pressure,” Cohen said. “I like managing high-pressure situations, taking the quick action and figuring out the plan.”
Living in Raleigh, N.C., with his wife, Erin (also a Pittsburgh native), and their two children, Cohen is now celebrating his eighth year as chief in Cary. His duties include training personnel, taking care of patients and managing daily operations, though he still values the personal connection of “helping people in the ambulance.”
“I like the ability to see problems, find a quick plan, and put that plan into action and see results,” he said.
And as Cohen knows, finding that quick plan can make all the difference.
At any moment an issue can develop and “the next thing you know, you have a multivehicle accident with a lot of people hurt and you have to manage the situation,” Cohen said.
While he now has the knowledge, skills and character to be successful in the business, Cohen struggled early on to find his niche.
A Squirrel Hill native, Cohen graduated from Taylor Allderdice in 1980 and began courses at Duquesne University. However, while his father was recovering from a heart attack, Cohen reassessed his academic options and decided to become a paramedic.
After promising his parents to eventually complete his bachelor’s degree, Steve dropped out of Duquesne, enrolled at CCAC, and soon received his degree in EMT.
He began working in Pittsburgh, but said he “always knew I wanted to move up in ranks,” prompting him to take a job in Philadelphia as a supervisor of a private ambulance service. As he transitioned into EMS coordinator and paramedic instructor, Cohen began taking night classes and earned his bachelor’s of science in emergency medical services management from Drexel University, graduating first in his class.
Needless to say, he kept his promise to his parents.
In 1995, Cohen and his family moved to Mt. Lebanon, where he served as the director of education for Medical Rescue Team South Authority. In 2001, the family moved to Raliegh, N.C., when Cohen became chief of the Cary Area EMS.
Now in his 29th year in EMS, Cohen acknowledges, “it’s been good for me.
“I love Cary. I love my job, I love the area and there’s no more snow.”
Of course, he’s still a huge Penguins, Steelers and Pirates fan, and even goes down to Bradenton every year to catch spring training.
Cohen also admits that there’s a lot he still misses about Pittsburgh, aside from sports.
“I miss our friends. We had a good friend base when we lived in Mt. Lebanon,” Cohen said. “I miss the Point, I miss Kennywood, I miss Mineo’s pizza and I miss my family.”
Though living so far away would surely be stressful for anyone, something tells me Cohen is managing fine.
After all, he’s good at handling pressure.
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and Web editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at email@example.com.)