by Tyler Molleur (Member, Hardwick Rescue Squad, 2011-Present)
Originally published in the Spring 2016 Hardwick Historical Society Journal
Half a century ago the thought of providing civilians with emergency care outside of a hospital setting was a novel idea, but one which quickly caught on with many communities, including the Town of Hardwick. For founding member Art Williams, his desire to help came from seeing a motor vehicle accident where, he said, the family involved was very poor, and he didn’t feel they were receiving the same standard of care as those with more money.
Prior to the establishment of a local ambulance service, if someone needed a ride to the hospital, the service was provided by Harold Holcomb, who would transport people to the Hardwick Hospital in his funeral service’s hearse, according to Williams. Another founding member, Art Chase, said the inception of the Hardwick Emergency Rescue Squad from a couple Hardwick families with a desire to learn some first aid skills. Trainings in first aid and advanced first aid were conducted initially by Francis Manning, a Red Cross instructor who actively volunteered as a member of the rescue squad in its infancy.
Williams said the first aid course emphasized life-saving skills, including CPR. “It was basically the A-B-Cs,” he said, which stand for airway, breathing, and circulation. Advanced first aid focused on more technical skills, such as managing musculoskeletal injuries.
“We could tie a sprained ankle,” Chase said, noting that the squad had strategically placed airbags for splinting broken limbs at Smith’s Grocery in Greensboro Bend and in the hands of some of their first responders in town. Initial trainings occurred around the same time as the official founding of the Hardwick Rescue Squad on March 5, 1967, which was signed into being in the downstairs of the Memorial Building. Chase was elected president. Peter Clark became vice president, Charles Sartelle the secretary, and Robert Smith, Jr. the treasurer.
Trustees included Manning, Karl Lingenfelter, Art Williams, Stanley Ainsworth, Ken Williams, David Brochu, and Chaplain Rev. Hugh Cuthbertson.
Holcomb, wishing to discontinue transporting the sick and injured to the hospital, donated his 1946 Cadillac hearse to the squad. The vehicle had four pedals on the floor for operation: a siren, a clutch, a brake, and an accelerator. The hearse was then placed in service as an ambulance with the helpful donations of supplies and labor from local merchants and families.
The ambulance was outfitted with bandages, which the wives of charter members made out of old sheets. Chase said two men who were familiar with radios helped to make two-way communication available to the squad via CB radios, allowing them to be in touch with each other, the hospitals, and town departments. Dispatching was originally handled by the Village Nursing Home in East Hardwick, and Williams said the service’s mission, which continues to be the case today, is to assist people when there is a threat to life or limb. “We did not transport people, we transported emergencies,” Williams also added.
With the logistics in place for an ambulance response, the first active shift began on Memorial Day weekend, 1967, and the ambulance took its first emergency call in July. By August, nine calls had been handled. Initially, Williams said the “crew” consisted of one member, then the staffing grew to one certified attendant and one driver, then two certified attendants and one driver.
Chase said the original membership of just over a dozen volunteers grew over the next several years, which included Patty Meyer, who joined the squad in 1973, and is still and active member. During 1973, two members of the Urie Family completed one of the earliest emergency medical technician-ambulance (EMT-A) courses held in the state, according to Meyer. She completed her EMT course in 1979.
As members completed courses as EMTs, they could become trained in additional skills, such as IV therapy, injections, and esophageal airways.
On January 19, 1982, the Hardwick Hospital Association (HHA) helped the rescue squad to find a home different from the Quonset hut it utilized at the town garage to store its ambulance equipment. It moved to its location at 171 Creamery Road. The HHA had the current building constructed and donated to the squad. The squad owns the building, and the HHA owns the land, according to Williams, who is the current HHA president.
In 1984, Sharleen Speir took over dispatching from Millie Michaud for the Hardwick Rescue Squad. Williams said Speir, who retired from the squad in 2009, was also the squad treasurer for many years. Speir ran a 24/7 dispatching operation from her own home for 25 years, initially calling members for emergencies via telephone, and later using mobile radio communications, which allowed communication between the dispatcher, hospitals, and squad members.
While Hardwick is the main base for ambulance services, Williams said several towns have had their own outposts of Hardwick Rescue members, who arrived first on the scene to stabilize patients while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. These first responders (or FAST squad members) were established in Woodbury and East Calais in 1985, as a class in Advanced First Aid and CPR completed on May 21 of that year. The benefit of the service was to support the sick and injured during the wait for the ambulance, which took at least 15 minutes to arrive in Woodbury from the moment it was called.
Twenty members of these two towns attended the course, which was conducted by members of the rescue squad. The group had drawn up their own bylaws and elected officers.
One year later, the FAST squad reported so much success in fundraising it purchased a ‘Resuscitator Annie’ CPR training manikin to also help train firefighters and members of the public.
As the use of emergency medical services became more common in communities around the local region, involvement in Hardwick’s ambulance service drew more members. One of those members was Joan Camp, who joined in 1981. Camp said one of the appealing aspects of joining the ambulance crew was the amount of energy exerted by members on the most urgent calls. “Your heart’s a-pounding, because you don’t know what you’re going to find,” she said. “Adrenaline takes over, and then you wonder afterwards how you did it.”
Camp was one of the crew members called to the scene of an overturned 18-wheeler on Route 16 in Wheelock on October 29, 1991. According to several newspaper articles, Yvon Pepin of Bidden, Quebec was stuck in the cab of a 1989 Freightliner truck after the restraints holding a 53,000-pound block of granite to the flatbed came loose. 1 Hardwick Rescue and Fire Department, Walden, Craftsbury, Greensboro, and Morrisville Fire Departments assisted in the six-hour extrication of Pepin, along with two cherry-picker cranes volunteered by private citizens. Pepin was freed and later reunited with his family. “That was wonderful to see all those people working together. The farmers with their tractors and bucket loaders, oh that was wonderful,” said Camp. “[Pepin] was trapped in there from quarter after six until quarter after twelve.”
1986 brought a new ride for members as the Squad acquired $45,000 in equipment, including a new ambulance. The replacement, a 1981 Ford ambulance arrived with a refurbished chassis and cab to replace an old four-wheel drive ambulance, which, “rode like a lumber-wagon,” according to Evie Foss, who was Rescue Squad president at the time. The squad answered 255 rescue calls that year.
The need to respond to emergencies didn’t stop when many members clocked in at work. Businesses throughout the area allowed their employees to leave on a moments’ notice to render care when the ambulance needed staffing. One of the employers, Tim Nisbet, recruited many members over time, becoming a member himself in 1988. At one time as many as four of his staffers would disappear from the shop to answer rescue calls.
Art Williams, one of the founding members of the squad, said local youth also had opportunities to participate in emergency services. Boy Scouts and students from Hazen Union School rode along on ambulance calls.
In 1998 the emergency service made 406 runs to the emergency service. Joan Camp retired from the squad in 1999, as the squad obtained new communication technology. In that year the ambulance began to communicate with the hospital via cell phone. Members were trained on the new devices in addition to radios.
At the turn of the 21st century, emergency response services required more professional credentials than before. Legislation effective in 2000 stipulated that the minimal crew needed to transport a patient required at least one basic emergency medical technician; a higher level of certification than previously needed.
The turn of the century also brought Hardwick’s most recent president, Deb LaRose, on board the squad. She began as a member of the Woodbury FAST Squad and assumed the role of president in 2009.
The Hardwick squad briefly qualified as a paramedic-level service; the highest level of EMS certification possible. This was the result of Bud Geary’s joining the squad. He originally provided services through a neighboring EMS community paramedicine program, and his affiliation with the Hardwick squad allowed it to become an operational paramedic-level service on July 1, 2008. When Geary moved to Rhode Island in 2009, however, Hardwick Rescue Squad returned to operating at the EMT-intermediate level.
Sharleen Speir, who served as dispatcher for the ambulance and other services in multiple regional towns, retired in 2009. The Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department has since taken over dispatch functions.
Other changes have also impacted the Squad. In 2012, Vermont reorganized and re-labeled levels of expertise and training among emergency responders. The former ranks of
were dropped in favor of a ranking which offered more clarity. The new rankings include
Along with the designation of new certification levels came other structural changes. For example, the state level practical and written certification examinations have been replaced by a national certification examination which leads to state licensure.
Treatment protocols have also advanced in response to research which shows new treatments worked better than older ones. For example, providers with an EMT certification or higher were recently approved to perform a physical assessment to determine with high certainty that a patient is likely not suffering from a spinal injury and therefore does not require a neck collar and immobilization on a spine board. Tourniquets, which were removed from protocols for a time, were reinstated after research established tourniquets as effective life-saving intervention when direct pressure to a wound does not stops its bleeding. Conversely, research has shown that some protocols have little value and could be removed from use lest they cause further harm in certain cases.