Cary Area EMS celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The reason for the organization’s existence is legacy around the station. In 1971, a furniture truck struck a 4-year-old boy in Cary. Tragically, he died after waiting 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive from Raleigh. That fall, a group of citizens met to form the Cary Area Rescue Squad, a non-profit organization designed to be independent of the local fire department, the Town of Cary and Wake County.
Brent Miller, chair of the Cary Area EMS Board of Directors, said it’s extraordinary that the organization has existed for 40 years. “We’re still orange, and we’re still providing service and have been every day, every single minute for the last 40 years.”
As one of the founders of the organization, Jerry Adams, reminded the group of about 200 current members, alumni and family members at the 40th Anniversary celebration, the original committee members, met to set forth seven principles for the organization, principles that, in general, guide the organization still today.
- The squad would be autonomous, not a part of the Town of Cary.
- Squad members would be fully trained with “advanced first aid.”
- Squad members would project a professional image.
- Squad members would pull duty from the station, not respond from home.
- Instead of using a city-wide siren, squad members would use electronic pagers to be notified of emergencies.
- Instead of getting equipment sold by other organizations, the squad would start with new equipment.
- The squad would not use fundraisers to raise funds but would instead use grant money, donations or billing monies to pay for equipment and personnel.
Adams said “Most rescue squads (of the time) spent more time raising funds than they did providing service.” He said the organizers didn’t want to fall into that trap. Instead, they insisted on getting new, state-of-the-art equipment, properly training their field personnel and getting funding from the Town of Cary, Wake County and other groups.
He said it took less than a month to write the charter and by October of 1971, the organization was born. The first class of 15 members all became Certified Ambulance Attendants. In the second class, Adams recognized Avery Little, as the only person to make 25 plus years with the squad as an active member. Adams said he was actively involved for about two and one-half years but then “was totally burned out.”
But he said he felt good that those original members “built a very firm foundation.”
“We were and you are number one in providing pre-hospital medical service in this area,” Adams said.
Since that time, Cary Area EMS has grown into one of the largest EMS agencies in the area, running three ambulances 24/7/365 and another ambulance 12 hours a day. With more than 40 full-time members, 14 volunteers, and as many part-timers, Cary Area EMS continues to thrive and to grow. Since that first call, Cary has set the standard for pre-hospital care in Central North Carolina with a series of “firsts,” choosing to lead rather than follow in the Central North Carolina area. For example, Cary EMS was the first
- Volunteer agency in the state to require its members to remain at the building while on duty;
- Volunteer agency in the state to purchase vehicle extrication equipment — the “jaws of life”;
- Volunteer agency in the state to have a certified Emergency Medical Technician (Jerry Adams)
- Agency to use pagers to alert members about calls;
- Agency in the area to have a command post;
- Volunteer agency in Wake County to have paramedics;
- Volunteer department in Wake County to hire a full-time, paid chief;
- Agency in Wake County to use 12-lead EKG monitors in the field;
- Agency in Wake County to have a Bicycle Emergency Response Team;
- Volunteer agency in the country to receive accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services;
- Agency in Wake County to initiate a Citizens’ Academy where people can learn important first-aid and life-saving techniques;
- Agency in Wake County to host a flu shot clinic.
The citizens of the Town of Cary and surrounding areas — Cary Area EMS is part of the Wake County EMS System — are lucky to have such a dedicated group of people who know the area and who care to provide prompt, compassionate and clinically excellent care to whomever calls 911. But the volunteers and paid staff members (most of them, most of the time) do more than that.
ON EMS VOLUNTEERS
In my 11 or so years with Cary Area EMS, I’ve worked with a lot of full-time staff members. Some have come and gone. Same with the volunteers. We still maintain and train a full cadre of volunteers, something few other urban EMS systems in the nation take the time to do. Volunteers are time-consuming to train. And often they don’t stick around long as they’re building a resume to go to medical school or learning skills that will benefit them no matter their profession.The staff members realize that the volunteers will someday be the lawyers, politicians and doctors making decisions. So the time invested in training them is worth it in the long run.
The volunteers also bring another strength to the organization — a variety of viewpoints. Our volunteers are engineers, nurses, administrators, computer programmers. They bring new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things that individuals who have grown up in an EMS environment may not think about.
Indeed, I believe the volunteers are worthy of the time investment for another reason — they are the future of the profession. After 20-some years of working in EMS, I see students go take their EMT-Basic class, maybe go straight on to EMT-Intermediate, get their Paramedic certification and then hit the streets. Like the new doctors that hit the emergency room floors this week, sometimes these folks scare me. That patch doesn’t make them a good street medic. It certainly doesn’t mean they know how to handle an 80-year-old who has a hemorrhoid and who just need some attention at 1:30 a.m. because she’s afraid of being left alone.
By giving EMT-Basics or -Intermediates or Paramedics a chance to work on a volunteer basis before making final career choices, the volunteers become stronger medics down the road.
CARY IS DIFFERENT
That compassion is what makes the really strong volunteers, part-time and full-time staff at Cary different. We don’t just run calls, scoop people up and transport them to the hospital. Sure, there are days where we just want to scream at the patient who has had a headache for four days and waited to call EMS at 3 a.m. on Friday. (I remember one patient who was sitting curbside with her suitcases at 6:50 a.m. — our shift ends at 7 a.m. — just wanting a ride to the hospital.) There are also days when we spend two hours with a patient at a nursing home who doesn’t need to go the hospital. He needed help back in bed, not a trip to the hospital.
Adams said the ambulances in Cary are orange because that’s what the Department of Transportation in the early 1970′s recommended. That too makes Cary different. So when the orange ambulance arrives with the big lettering on the side that says Cary Area EMS arrives at the accident scene our your front doorstep, take a few seconds to tell the staff thanks. Thanks for staying up all night. Thanks for putting up with the vomit and the blood. Thanks for holding true to those guiding principles that John Owens, Bill Evans, Jerry Adams and the other founders of Cary Area EMS set forth 40-some years ago.
I hope the organization is around providing the finest in pre-hospital care for another 40 years.