From left, Kate Boudreau, (daughter) Joan Martin, Gregg Thompson, and Devin Thompson (on Gregg’s back) stand behind home plate last week at Fenway Park in Boston.
Courtesy photo via Kate Boudreau
From left, Kate Boudreau, (daughter) Joan Martin, Gregg Thompson, and Devin Thompson (on Gregg’s back) stand behind home plate last week at Fenway Park in Boston.

Paramedic’s 40-year legacy ‘beyond description’

Joe Thompson, an EMS stalwart for more than four decades, gets posthumous honors for his service to emergency medicine at a Fenway Park ceremony

BRATTLEBORO — Zach Rounds, a paramedic with Rescue Inc. in Brattleboro, described his good friend Joe Thompson as “one of the hardest working people I've ever met.”

Thompson, 63, died of pancreatic cancer on April 29 after an eight-month battle with the disease. He leaves a long legacy of service to the community.

“I first met Joe because he did the driver's education for ambulance drivers. For over 40 years, almost every driver in our organization went through Joe's cone course. He was a very meticulous driver who knew all the tips and tricks to avoid crashes with the ambulance,” said Rounds.

“His impact at Rescue is beyond description,” he added. “He's done almost every job available at Rescue Inc., having served as a lieutenant, a captain, a deputy chief, a shift officer, a drivers training officer, [in] building maintenance. Everything.”

Over the last few months, Thompson began to write down all the jobs he's quietly taken on at Rescue's quarters. So far, six people are now covering what he once did.

Dale Merritt of Vernon worked with Thompson at Rescue Inc. for much of his career and bestowed on him a special nickname.

“We called Joe 'MacGyver' after the 1980s TV show where the lead character had a solution to any problem he faced,” Merritt said. “Known for his engineering skills, MacGyver often used a Swiss army knife and duct tape to fix many problems.”

He described the TV character as “Joe himself.”

“No matter how difficult the call, Joe always had a way out of every predicament,” Merritt said. “He could come up with a solution to anything. [...] He gave us all a sense of security because he'd think of solutions that no one else would ever think about.”

A big heart

“There is no one I'd rather have on a call with me,” said Merritt, who also remembers Thompson's kindness and heart, as well as his “great sense of humor.”

“We had a squad member whose father loved the ocean and was on hospice care,” Merritt said. Thompson got permission for Merritt and their colleague to take the elderly man on his final trip to Hampton Beach in an ambulance on their days off.

“The man was thrilled to get a final look at the ocean and couldn't have gone without medical care in an ambulance,” Merritt said. “This is just the kind of guy Joe was - always helping others.”

Archer Mayor of Newfane, mystery novelist and death investigator for Vermont's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, worked with Thompson at Rescue in the late 1980s.

“He was stalwart, steady, dependable, funny, irreverent, and good at his job,” Mayor said. “He was not only surehanded with patient care but equally easy dealing with a fleet of sometimes cranky ambulances.”

“One of his oddities in those days was that he kept a small metal carpentry nail in his mouth, claiming that it helped him stop smoking,” he said, though he added that he would see Thompson, who later owned a mowing and plowing business, with a small cigar clamped between his teeth as he rode his lawn mower.

“I was forever unsure of the effectiveness of his cure,” Mayor said. “Nevertheless, he cut a figure and left a fine impression in his wake.”

The author said he thought of Thompson regularly “after we pursued our different paths, with fondness and respect."

In May 2022, Joe was presented with the Star of Life Award in Washington, D.C., for his dedication and service within the field of emergency medicine. At that time, Verne Bristol, past president and one of the original founders of Rescue Inc., commented about working with Thompson.

“Joe Thompson is an old-timer on Rescue,” Bristol said. “He's seen tremendous change in emergency medicine during his 40-plus years on the job. He's handled the purchase of the vehicles, done the maintenance on our ambulances - he's done it all.”

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

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

One final honor

Derek Paul, his brother Ryan, and sister-in-law Melissa all agree with these sentiments. All three own the local Servpro cleaning and restoration franchise in Chesterfield, N.H.

They recently told Thompson that he had won the Paint the Plate Award, organized by the company's northern New England franchisees to honor emergency medical services personnel in New England. The presentation would be scheduled for EMS night on May 4 during a Boston Red Sox home game in Fenway Park in Boston.

The award honors an EMS professional from the New England community. “Joe Thompson was nominated more than any other candidate for this special award, and also received the largest number of votes to win the prize,” Paul said.

Among the comments on his nomination papers included:

• “Joe is in stage 4 cancer and still works harder than anyone I know. He was shoveling snow off the roof of Rescue quarters, fell off, and knocked himself unconscious. After being checked by a paramedic we had at base he went back to shoveling the snow off the roof.”

• “He is a person that gives everything to everyone. He loves his community and has dedicated decades of his life to improving the lives of others. He is the epitome of altruism. He has always been the glue that holds us together. He is someone I always look to for guidance and support. He is truly a hero.”

Thompson was notified that he won the award and died two days later. His life partner, Joan Martin of Brattleboro; his daughter, Kate Boudreau; his son, Gregg Thompson; and his 7-year-old granddaughter Devin made the trip to Boston to paint the plate in his honor.

“Throughout New England, there were 20 or so individuals who were nominated, but Joe was nominated 54 times! He obviously has made a major impression on his community,” said Paul.

“We are local people and, as I think about Joe Thompson, I realize that he's served this community almost as long as I've been alive, quietly helping others,” Paul continued. “It was an honor to get to know his family, and we thank him deeply for his service to our community.”

“We were so glad he knew that before he died,” said Martin.

During EMS Night at Fenway Park, Martin and Thompson's family were greeted and brought to the home plate by Servpro and Red Sox personnel, where they all gathered for pictures and were given a can of white spray paint to use to paint the plate.

“It was wonderful,” Martin said. “About 20 members of Rescue Inc, the Servpro folks, and our family gathered in Joe's honor. We were also given four tickets right behind home plate.”

“The Red Sox beat the Blue Jays, 11–5. Joe would have loved that. He was a lifelong fan.”

Martin was also quick to thank Rescue Inc. Since Thompson's cancer diagnosis last fall, Rescue began a series of monthly spaghetti dinners to assist with medical costs and to gather the community together. Some of the money raised went toward a family trip to see the Grand Canyon - “a life goal for Joe,” she said.

“We were able to make that trip when Joe wasn't as ill, and his two children and three grandchildren were able to make the trip with us,” Martin continued. “It was a real boost to his spirit to check that off his bucket list. Each and every one of the people with whom Joe worked were outstanding supports to him and his family, and our family thanks them all.”

Thompson's death reverberated at the highest levels of state EMS agencies.

“Joseph Thompson took his first EMS course in 1981 and went on to hold nearly every level of EMS licensure Vermont offers during his career of over 40 years,” Vermont Department of Health Emergency Medical Services Chief Bambi Dame said.

“We thank Joe for his continued dedication and commitment to his community and EMS throughout the years,” she said. “We are grateful for Joe's selfless service and extend our sincerest condolences to his family and colleagues in the Vermont EMS community.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates