Verne Bristol, left, talks with Chuck Cummings during an open house at Rescue Inc. Bristol, who along with Cummings was one of the founders of Rescue Inc., died on Aug. 23 at the age of 91.
Courtesy photo
Verne Bristol, left, talks with Chuck Cummings during an open house at Rescue Inc. Bristol, who along with Cummings was one of the founders of Rescue Inc., died on Aug. 23 at the age of 91.

Local EMS pioneer remembered as steadfast community volunteer

Verne Bristol, 91, a founder of Rescue Inc., was on the forefront of professionalizing emergency services in Vermont

DUMMERSTON — Verne Bristol, one of the founders of Rescue Inc., died in his sleep on Aug. 23, six days after he celebrated his 91st birthday.

"Of course, we're very sad to see him leave us," says Patty Bristol Higgins, one of Bristol's two daughters. "He always said he wanted to go quickly and didn't want any of us kids hanging around a hospital bed. I'm so glad that he went peacefully in his sleep."

Bristol, one of 17 children, grew up in Dummerston and attended the one-room schoolhouse that is now the home of the Dummerston Historical Society. After his graduation from Brattleboro High School in 1951, he joined the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War and served with the 101st Airborne Division.

Fastidious by nature, he so impressed the higher ups, he was asked to serve an additional year in the service to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., an honor he declined so that he could come home to Vermont.

Bristol met his future wife, Mary, in 1955 and the pair married a year later. They had five children, 15 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Professionalizing EMS services

Verne Bristol and 14 other men, all members of the National Ski Patrol and certified in Advanced First Aid, began Rescue Inc., a nonprofit emergency response service, in 1966, well before EMS services were professionalized and such concepts as protocols and certifications were designed.

"We were all skiing Hogback Mountain [in Marlboro] on the weekends," Bristol noted in an interview last year.

According to Bristol, Brattleboro Fire Chief T. Howard Mattison, then in his 20s, had just become fire chief, around the time that the fire department was reorganizing.

"As a group, we approached him and asked if we could base ourselves at the Fire Station and offer emergency medical care and transportation in Brattleboro, and he agreed to that," said Bristol. "We bought our own supplies for years."

Dr. James Miniszek, a doctor at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Rescue's first medical director, trained the volunteers, elevating their standard of care. A few years later, Rescue would become the first - and, for a time, the only - organization that could administer intravenous fluids to patients.

"All of us were first aid instructors. We had advanced first aid certification. Of these original 14 members, when the state created a designation for Emergency Medical Technician, 12 of us decided to take the first test offered by the state," Bristol said.

"All of us passed with flying colors," he said, making the Brattleboro EMTs charter members of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians in the United States in the 1970s.

"That was quite a thing for our little town and the state of Vermont," said Bristol with pride.

Bristol said he was proud that Rescue Inc. didn't charge for their services for several decades. By the 1970s, with more than 100 active volunteers, the organization was constantly raising money with events like the Hunters' Breakfast so that "the good, hard-working people of Brattleboro wouldn't have to pay for our services," he said.

"We assembled flashlights, we did spaghetti suppers - anything to raise enough funds to keep our services free," Bristol said.

One older woman used to give Rescue a monthly donation of her change from a Band-Aid box, he said.

"That was the level of support Rescue Inc. garnered," Bristol said. "I'm proud of that."

Later, when Bristol became president of Rescue Inc., the nonprofit began offering an ambulance subscription service for $25 per year.

His family members were always big supporters of what then was a new idea in Vermont.

"We've always been a part of the Rescue community," remembers Bristol's daughter Patty. "My mother was his favorite 'call girl,'" she said laughing, referring to the dubious double entendre of the communications system that activated the volunteers in the earliest days of the organization.

In the days before beepers, cell phones, and other devices, five women - all wives of the Rescue volunteers - orchestrated a phone tree to alert their husbands when they received a Rescue call.

"We were also the victims for simulation trainings. All of us kids were on stretchers pretending that we had broken legs, or an illness. I remember once being put on a stretcher with an eye injury. I had a cow eye placed over my real eye so that the Rescue personnel knew where my injury was. That's something a young girl doesn't soon forget!

"My father liked to tell the story of how when they first started spending the night at Rescue quarters on Canal Street, my uncle Bobby and my dad were on duty," said Higgins, laughing. "A call came in during the middle of the night, and they grabbed each other's glasses. Apparently, they were on the call for a long while before they realized the problem."

On another night, Bristol's widow, Mary, remembered a call in the middle of the night where he went to grab his underwear and run out the door, only to discover after he left the house that he'd grabbed her girdle.

For all the funny stories, there never was a doubt that Bristol took his work at Rescue Inc. in the most serious of ways possible.

"He was a wonderful father - he was strict at home, but he was also a lot of fun," Higgins said.

Rescue Inc. members past and present remember Verne Bristol the same way.

In an interview in the 1990s, Bristol said that "of all the things we've done at Rescue Inc., I'm most proud of the men and women who have served Rescue over the years. There are many more of them out there than people realize."

"There are fine people who give up so much of their time to continue the training that allows them the honor of serving their community," he said.

Services for Verne Bristol will be held on Saturday, Sept. 2. A processional will begin at Rescue Inc. headquarters on Canal Street, which will proceed to the Center Congregational Church on Main Street, where he and his wife were married 67 years ago. An honor guard will stand by.

An obituary appears in the Milestones section, page A4.

This News item by Fran Lynggaard Hansen was written for The Commons.

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