EMS worker honored for going above and beyond
A montage of photos from Rescue Inc.’s Joe Thompson’s visit to the U.S. Capitol to present an award to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

EMS worker honored for going above and beyond

Thompson earns award for years of service to Rescue Inc.

BRATTLEBORO — Each May, the American Ambulance Association honors emergency medicine professionals from across the nation for their lifetime achievement in the field with a banquet and awards ceremony in Washington D.C. each May.

“This year, Joe Thompson was one of the honorees,” said Drew Hazelton, chief of operations at Rescue Inc.

As described by the association, the Stars of Life awards program - named after the symbol that identifies emergency medical personnel, equipment, and vehicles - “celebrates the contributions of ambulance professionals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to their communities or the EMS profession.”

Nominated emergency medical technicians, paramedics, dispatchers, and other emergency medical services (EMS) professionals, who attended with their respective sponsors, were honored at the event in the nation's capital from May 1 to 4.

Inspired by his grandfather, Thompson, of Brattleboro, started his career as a firefighter in Gill, Mass., where he grew up. He went on to serve in Unity, N.H. and in Londonderry, Vt.

When he took an EMT class in 1977, Thompson found his calling and a new professional home at Rescue Inc. in 1980.

An estimated 10,000 calls later, Thompson was honored for a full career.

“Joe is an amazing person and certainly an asset to Rescue Inc.,” Hazelton told The Commons. “He's served in many different roles in our organization.”

Hazelton stopped there and then recalibrated his statement.

“Wait a minute,” he said, as he corrected himself with a laugh. “He's served in all our roles here at Rescue! He's our biggest supporter. There isn't a day that has passed in the last 40 years that Joe hasn't had Rescue blood running through his veins.”

Thompson, who has served as a past chief of operations and a captain, is a leader who has run calls, taught classes, done technical rescue, saved lives, delivered babies, been named Squad Member of the Year, and has lost count of his lifesaving stars.

Once a volunteer and now a paid staff member, Thompson has seen approximately 200 volunteers come and go during his time of service at Rescue.

“Right now, I serve with children of past squad members who are paramedics themselves,” said Thompson. “That can make a guy feel old!”

Asked which calls he remembers most over all his years of service, Thompson paused, taking his time to respond.

“Rather than the horrific ones, delivering babies has been a highlight,” he said. “I've delivered babies in the field, in the ambulance, and at people's homes.”

“As I think about it, those kids are in their 30s and 40s now,” he said.

Thompson remembers other calls with positive outcomes.

“There was one call where I answered the phone, and I spoke with the wife of a man who was no longer breathing. I talked her through how to do CPR while the ambulance responded,” he said.

“He was in his late 50s or early 60s at the time and had a heart attack,” Thompson continued. “When he recovered, he came to [Rescue's headquarters] to thank us all. He is in his early 90s now.”

Then, he told of the man who fell off a truck and survived.

“When he recovered from that fall, we had the honor of driving him back to his home in Pennsylvania as a medical transport,” Thompson said.

“I like the challenge of the work. Over the years, my role at Rescue has shifted. I don't run as many calls as I used to,” he said.

Thompson also decided at age 63 not to run technical rescue anymore, “but that space has been filled with other duties,” he said.

“You must know your limits as you age,” he observed. “At this point, I've really seen and done it all over the years. I still do a lot of the driving. I've always enjoyed that.”

Verne Bristol, past president and one of the founders of Rescue Inc., has worked with Thompson for many years and is a true fan of the man he describes as “an old-timer.”

“He's seen tremendous change in emergency medicine during his 40 years on the job,” Bristol said. “He's handled the purchase of the vehicles, done the maintenance on our ambulances, he's done it all.”

Bristol described Thompson as “a wonderful, down-to-earth member who has given years and years of his time and talent to Rescue Inc.”

“We value him. There is nothing this guy hasn't done,” he said.

The head of the service organization - in this case, Hazelton - is most often the sponsor of the nominee. Hazelton and his wife, Katie, attended the event with Thompson. The American Ambulance Association picked up the tab for flights and accommodations.

Thompson received a medal on Monday morning, and then a plaque at the banquet the next night.

After classes and meetings in the mornings, the honorees got to see some of the sights of the city. “We were at the Capitol, the Supreme Court, Arlington National Cemetery,” Thompson said. “I feel very fortunate.”

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also received honors from the American Ambulance Association with a Legislative Recognition Award, according to a press release, “in appreciation of his advocacy for emergency medical services.”

The organization described the retiring senator as having been “a trusted advocate for health care and emergency medical services, both in Vermont and across our country.”

The timing was such that the Supreme Court draft ruling regarding Roe v. Wade was leaked the night before the ceremony, which meant Leahy was unable to attend.

Two days later, Hazelton said, Jim Finger, CEO of the Vermont Ambulance Association, and Shawn Baird, president of the AAA board of directors, went to Leahy's office to present the award.

Thompson is the third member of Rescue Inc. to receive this national recognition. Squad members Christine Hume and Mark Considine have also been so honored.

“It came as a big surprise,” remarked Thompson, “It was a very humbling experience to be standing on that stage with the other recipients.

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