By Armand Rubbo
Dear Brother and Sister Members,
I started in this business in 1967. What was being a volunteer like “back then”? I started with a department outside Philadelphia. Big reason was, when the fire siren on the pole outside the high school went off, junior firemen could leave school. There was no EMS, but the fire department had a Cadillac ambulance with a big shiny Q2 siren on the roof. Speed was life; get them to a hospital as fast as possible. Put a cravat on the bleeding. Gloves? Not really, except for a child birth call, and then junior firefighters could not go. We rode the tailboard of fire trucks, wearing aluminum fire helmets, canvas coats, and ¾ rubber boots. Little did I know…
Two years as a volunteer fireman got me a paying job with the Philadelphia Fire Department. That lasted 6 months: Vietnam was going on and I was allergic to the jungle. I joined the Navy.
I was stationed here with the Navy and there were volunteer firemen. That’s for me! I started as a volunteer with Davis Corner in 1975, forsaking the ambulances and concentrating on the fire department. That, along with some immaturity on my part, hastened my departure from Davis Corner in 1976.
What was EMS like back then? “Emergency” was a big hit on TV, and everyone wanted to be a “paramedic.” We had cardiac technicians in Virginia Beach, among the first in the country. We still had those Cadillac ambulances, but were going over to vans and “modulars.” Ever work a Code Red in a Cadillac? Can’t do CPR inside, so we would leave the stretcher on the scene, put the patient on a backboard on the floor, and kneel to do CPR. One person had to hold the IV bottle outside the window to get the height needed for fluid flow. Every patient got bicarb and early technicians loved to pop the
yellow caps on the bristojects, just like Johnny Gage. It was an honor to get to hold the IV bottle. Little did I know…
Virginia Beach EMS was still a fantasy. There were 11 rescue squads, with resultant competition among squads. Don’t you dare respond to a call in another squad’s area, even if you “just happened to be in the area.” The EMS office was a couple of trailers behind the emergency room at Virginia Beach General Hospital. Bruce Edwards was the EMS Coordinator; Joe Wilson his faithful companion, and Doris Foster had training. We had a real human heart in formalin that we used for show and tell at CPR classes. Each station had a “crash truck” but only a couple squads had Hurst Tools, or the “Jaws of Life.” Volunteers ran from home to the station, and decorated their cars with red lights (some still do). The fire department was still volunteer, with paid drivers at some stations. Ocean Park was the last to have paid drivers, and they started in 1979. I remember them fondly: G.G. Larsen and Norm Dominissey.
Paramedics came about in the late 70s. Don Haupt of Norfolk Paramedical Rescue Service was Virginia paramedic #1, and Bill Guy, a Navy Master Chief Corpsman and member of Chesapeake Beach, was paramedic #2. Bill could not use his medic skills yet due to protocols, and was only allowed to practice as a cardiac technician.
I returned to Davis Corner in 1981, and helped Virginia Beach EMS slowly evolve from this beginning. The squads began to work together. For example, I was a member of Davis Corner, but lived in Kings Grant, Plaza’s area. Their captain, Billy Day, allowed me to run the Zone 1-6 car, even though I was a member of Davis Corner. WOW! I knew I had arrived as a medic when Chuck and Elsie Benson, Life members of Courthouse Rescue, asked me to staff Zone 5-17 during their banquet. I was paramedic #2456. Little did I know…
I retired as a Senior Chief Petty Officer from the US Navy and was appointed to the Virginia Beach Police Department. Once I was a full-fledged police officer, complete with a gun, I decided that you cannot do everything in life and do them well. I gave up the fire side, and retained my paramedic. The Fire Department was getting bigger and better, and firefighting became much more technical in nature. Firefighting had surely changed since I started as a volunteer firefighter in 1967, outside Philadelphia.
Whenever opportunities were open, I took full advantage of them. There is no limit to what can be achieved by being a member of the Department of EMS. I would like to leave you with some advice. Take a moment to read and reflect, or else just print it out and line your birdcage with it.
Volunteering has many forms. It can mean things like showing up when you feel like it, to leaving anytime you want, to not getting paid for your efforts, to putting your very life on the line. To me, volunteering is something you only do twice: once when you decide to become part of the organization and once when you decide to leave. In between, you have OBLIGATIONS. You agree to be at a certain place, at a certain time. Failing to do so is tantamount to dishonesty. You have not met your obligations as you agreed to.
Treat your volunteer efforts as you would treat your full-time avocation. Use your experiences with EMS to further your education and further your chosen career. This IS a job. We just don’t get a paycheck. You do get a couple drinks at the banquet, though. I have seen many EMS “graduates” go on to bigger and better adventures, the kind that put food on your table and buy a nice car. Do a good job, listen to your chosen officers, and capitalize on your experience with EMS. I guarantee it will return benefits to you. It did for me.
Take care of your equipment. YOU OWN IT!! YOU are a member of this organization. One of my biggest gripes (besides someone walking on my lawn) is finding an ambulance dirty, not stocked, and not ready for action. Many of the old timers in Virginia Beach used to run fire engines, squad trucks, ambulances, and zone cars. When a call came out and the duty crew was tied up, members would respond to the station to roll the apparatus. Other members would meet trucks enroute to or at the scene. Trucks HAD to be ready to roll at a moment’s notice. We could not afford to jumpstart the squad truck or add water to the fire truck tank. Treat your vehicles like your own (hold on to that for a minute). Remember that other VBEMS members could come into your station at any time. What kind of opinion will they have finding a dirty, unkempt truck? The Virginia OEMS rep does hold surprise inspections of ambulances at any time and Wayne Berry can be sneaky.
Keep the family atmosphere Virginia Beach volunteers is famous for. Take time for fun and games. Watch out for each other. If a member imbibes a little too much, give him a ride. If a member has a bad call, support them, refer them to CISM, and just be a friend. A sad statistic from the police department is that police suicides far exceed the number of line of duty deaths. Sadly, fire department and EMS suicides are increasing each year. We have a stressful job and we, often, are the only ones bringing a sense of calm to total chaos. Your partner, the person you run duty with 4 or more times a month, may exhibit signs of stress that unchecked can lead to a disaster. YOU have to be the one who gets help for him or her. Don’t turn your back. Don’t be the one that says, “if only I could have helped them.”
Perform at your fullest. Don’t decide to just let your certs run out and leave EMS. Citizens don’t care if you are career or volunteer. They want help NOW! Stay on top of your certifications and get all the training you can. I leave Davis Corner and VBEMS freshly recertified as a paramedic, ACLS, and BCLS instructor. I may not do anything with them in the future, but I am going out at the top of my game. There is an underlying satisfaction with knowing you did your best.
Chief Bruce Edwards, Deputy Chief Bill Kiley, Deputy Chief Joe Wilson, and countless others have brought Virginia Beach EMS into the 21st century in fine style. Chief Ed Brazle and staff will continue this course and add many exciting things to the department. I wish I could be here to see what the future holds so I’ll have to depend on you to keep me updated.
Those of you who have been in the system for a while have heard me say when the volunteers leave, I’ll be the last one out and I’ll turn off the lights. Those lights burn brightly.
I love you all and I will miss you even more. I will keep the EMS office advised of my location, and if you ever get into the Orlando area, let us know. Don’t let the lights go out.
Paramedic 275, former 200, 230, 231, 232, 250, 251, 252, 253, 259, signing off.
Armand Rubbo, NRP