In show of service, pair of Norwich graduates support delivery of critical coronavirus care

As scores of Norwich graduates will attest, “I will try,” Norwich University’s war-forged motto, resonates on campus and off, in everyday life and in crisis. This spring, the words inspired a pair of Norwich graduates involved in Northeastern U.S. efforts to mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Brendan Duane, a fresh 2020 graduate, and Brian Griffin, a 2014 Norwich graduate and 2019 Master of Business Administration recipient, described the slogan’s power in helping deliver vital health care. Both described their efforts in response to President Richard W. Schneider’s plea for coronavirus adaptation stories.

In a March 31 video address to Norwich’s community, Schneider said Norwich’s Archives and Special Collections staff will collect and preserve the COVID-19 stories, sent as electronic letters and photo collections, as it collected pen-on-paper warfront letters from Norwich graduates during World War II. 

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Norwich engineering graduate and Master of Business Administration degree recipient Brian Griffin’s engineering firm helped complete new rooms in St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, New Hampshire. (Photo courtesy Brian Griffin.)

Griffin, who majored in electrical and computer engineering as a Norwich undergraduate, works at Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates, a Belmont, Massachusetts, engineering company. In his letter, he described managing health care engineering projects, including completing new rooms for an intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, New Hampshire, ahead of schedule. A fellow Norwich graduate was the project’s chief architect, he said.

Griffin said his firm also boosted several Boston-area hospitals’ capacity to treat coronavirus patients by creating outside air environments. (On March 17, science journalist Emily Anthes wrote in The Washington Post that some hospitals have worked to dilute the virus’s concentration in indoor air by bringing in more fresh air from outside.)

“These wards were effectively transitioned from normal treatment areas to pandemic receiving areas,” Griffin wrote. “As my firm moved from area to area adjusting the airflows, the beds behind the engineering team were being filled with COVID-19 patients as the continuous flow of incoming patients increased during the surge.”

Screening for safety

Meanwhile, Duane, who also wrote in April, at Norwich political science professor Raymond Pelletier’s behest, described helping screen people coming into the Chelsea Soldiers Home in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a campus-style living center housing armed forces veterans for long-term stays and residential living.

Duane, who majored in criminal justice, said his Norwich rook brother Patrick Morin-Plante, a 2019 graduate, recruited him, 2020 classmate Aidan Barrett and now rising-senior Perry Grzela for the job. Duane said the job gained importance as time passed and the pandemic evolved.

As of April 20, Duane wrote, 12 veterans in the home had died of the virus and 25 veterans and 52 employees had tested positive. On April 29, Boston television station WHDH-TV, Channel 7, reported that the home’s coronavirus-linked death toll had risen to 23.

“Things are tough, but they are tough everywhere. And for now we just have to keep pushing until all this craziness is done and gone.”Brendan Duane, Norwich University Class of 2020

“The nurses, (certified nursing assistants) and security workers who are organic to the (home) were overwhelmed,” wrote Duane, who commissioned in the U.S. Marine Corps this month, “and we did our best to ease their burden.”

Duane wrote that he helped the medical crew screen people who entered the campus’ residential side, ensuring that they lived or worked there, had sanitized thoroughly and wore proper personal protective equipment (PPE). He and his fellow Norwich students, he said, also checked entrants’ body temperatures for spikes and outfitted veterans and staff with homemade face masks.

“Now, as we continue to prove ourselves competent, we are trusted to be left to do our work,” Duane wrote.

Important, meaningful work

Duane called the job fulfilling and meaningful. He learned from listening to stories from veterans, who, he said, served in every conflict since World War II. One U.S. Army veteran in the home had served in the same Korean War artillery battery as Duane’s grandfather, who died last autumn.

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Brendan Duane

Duane said the job also brought vital household income when both his parents were laid off because of the pandemic.

“Things are tough, but they are tough everywhere,” he wrote. “And for now we just have to keep pushing until all this craziness is done and gone.”

Griffin and Duane both said Norwich lessons fueled their efforts. Duane wrote that time on campus reinforced a childhood lesson about the need to work diligently amid adversity. Griffin said his Corps of Cadets experience readied him to stay fiercely focused.

“The resiliency instilled upon me during my time in the Corps of Cadets prepared me well to take on these engineering challenges when so many people are relying on healthcare intervention for life-saving support,” Griffin wrote. “Norwich Forever.”

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