As I’ve written, my meetings in Cambridge, VT were arranged around learning about the relationship between the town and the ski resort. After leaving Smugg’s, I drove five minutes down the road to the station for the Cambridge Rescue Squad, a volunteer group that supports the town, including the ski resort. I met with Tracy Myers, the squad’s assistant chief. Like Mike at Smugg’s, Tracy struck me as a person who had really found her passion in life, though their two roles are so different.
Tracy told me that there are four permanent staff members on the squad and the rest are volunteers, of which “a good handful live in town,” but the remainder live in surrounding towns. I had thought it was astounding that the small town could staff a volunteer rescue squad. It turns out that people from other towns will travel to be part of it! The volunteers work 12-hour shifts, from 6:00 to 6:00, whether starting in the a.m. or the p.m., and they commit to 24 hours per month. Tracy and the squad’s chief work three 12-hour shifts per week.
The rescue squad isn’t Tracy’s only connection to public safety. She’s also the “second constable” for the Town of Cambridge and for nearby Johnson. Her work in those positions is basically animal control. She also volunteers for a rescue squad in another town. She said that at times she has had six different jobs, something of a Vermont way of life. Her entry into the field was working security in a Connecticut casino.
Not surprisingly, Tracy said the work depends on the season. In the winter, they deal with trauma experienced by skiers, and in the summer it’s people up on the hiking trails. Then there are the more mundane cases, such as cardiac events and calls from the assisted living facility in town. Depending on the nature of the injury or concern, the squad generally takes the patient to Copley Hospital in Morrisville, which has a strong orthopedics department, or the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, which is best for cardiac events, children, traumatic brain injuries, or major multiple trauma injuries. Tracy said their distance from the hospitals (25-35 minutes from Copley, 45 minutes from Burlington — “quicker with sirens”) is one of their main challenges.
The squad just marked its 30-year anniversary. It was started by citizens to support the nearest rescue squad, and a few volunteers go back to the early days. Within three years the squad had its first ambulance and started transporting patients. They now run two ambulances and cover all of the town of Cambridge and Smuggler’s Notch, answering about 450 calls each year. The ambulances carry narcan, but Tracy said that the opioid epidemic isn’t much of a concern in Cambridge at this time.
(I should note here that the Cambridge Fire Department is also a volunteer force, with the town providing financial support for both units. Security support comes from the Vermont state police.)
Some special challenges the squad faces include language barriers with the tourists. “There’s a variety of people coming up here to ski.” Tracy described long drives with a lot of shared “thumbs up” signs to reassure patients. The squad has installed white boards in the ambulances for working with deaf people.
The squad stays close to the community. They put together a barbecue, host schoolkids who want to see the ambulances, and provide observation opportunities for high school students training for careers in nursing. “We try to do a little extra for the community. We feel mutual appreciation and respect.”
There’s a lot more I could say about what I learned about the operation of a volunteer rescue squad, but most of all I was drawn in by Tracy’s description of a very difficult job. She said it was especially challenging in a small town, where it’s “hard to go on a call to a house,” of a friend. Staff “have to be compassionate yet distant at the same time. It’s a hard balance. Some people can’t handle the bad calls.” They have a crisis management team to call on if needed, but she said it’s important for volunteers to have good support at home. “The person I’m going home to needs to understand” if it has been a day with a bad call.
As part of the hiring process for her job, Tracy was asked for a statement of what she would do for the community. The cadet program she proposed now has four cadets who go on calls and come to trainings. “There’s nothing for kids to do in these smaller towns. The cadet program is something to do. They can hang around with good people. It keeps them out of trouble.”
Tracy told me about a 22-year-old who had died despite the squad’s best efforts. Her young son visited the rescue squad with flowers and a check for funds he had raised and that he wanted to donate. “This town’s pretty good with little things like that.” Over all, Tracy’s perspective on a volunteer rescue squad in a small town is that one supports the other. “They do for us, and we do for them.”
How would you describe Cambridge?
Cambridge is generally a pretty peaceful little town. Everybody knows everybody and there aren’t a lot of problems here. It’s a nice little town.