This is the fifth in a series of occasional features on the volunteer fire and rescue squads who provide Rappahannock County’s emergency services.
While many teens look to Warrenton and Culpeper for “hot spots” to occupy their free time, some have found all the excitement they need – at the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad.
“EMS gets in your system like adrenaline,” said Geraldine Payne, the former chief who was recently elected president of the company – which, like most of the seven volunteer emergency services companies in the county, welcomes junior members as young as 15 years old. Payne notes that the younger cohorts get revved up just hearing transmissions from the county dispatcher on the radio.
“It’s a big deal to them,” Payne said.
To go out on calls in the ambulance, volunteers must complete cardiopulmonary resuscitation training (CPR). With that, one can help lift patients, carry and fetch supplies, and more.
“You don’t have to be an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) to sit in the back and hold the person’s hand [on the ride to the hospital],” said Payne.
There are some clarifications to the original print version of this report in a Feb. 16 letter to the editor from Geraldine Payne.
Julian Bauchspies, 16 and a junior at Fauquier High School, joined the Sperryville group a year ago and is now in the county’s Emergency Medical Technician class. Bauchspies is joined by the company’s other young members, including Joshua “Josh” Casper, his brother John Casper, Seth Wayland and Chris Garcia.
Josh Casper remembers feeling calm during his first call. He helped secure the patient to the stretcher and load the patient in the ambulance. He, along with the EMTs, took the patient who was having chest pain, a headache and trouble walking, to Fauquier Hospital.
Peter McLean Jr., and his sister, Elsa McLean are also Sperryville Rescue junior members and are active when they are in Sperryville.
Bauchspies says he finds responding to calls exhilarating. But at first they also made him anxious.
“You’re scared you’ll mess up and do something wrong,” Bauchspies said. One of his first runs involved a man with an injured chest, and he remembers the other volunteers being relaxed and confident, joking and talking on the way to Culpeper. The atmosphere in the ambulance helped ease his tension, he said.
The emergency medical responders (EMRs) were also eager to show him how equipment works, Bauchspies said. They seemed excited that he and Casper had joined them (Casper, whose older brother John returned to the squad after serving reserve duty in Iraq, had started only a month before Bauchspies).
Although Bauchspies has known for a while that he wanted to become a medical professional, he says his experience with SVRS has clarified his goal. He wants to work as a paramedic, which is the highest level of training and responsibility in EMR.
In Sperryville, as at the other squads, after a volunteer completes Basic Life Support training, experienced EMTs observe his or her actions on actual calls. A checklist guides their monitoring, which includes assessing patients’ condition, interaction with patients, and technical skills such as backboarding (a procedure that helps stabilize a trauma patient’s spinal column). Afterwards, the EMTs determine if the new volunteer can run calls on his or her own or with supervision. They also provide feedback, noting strengths and offering suggestions.
“You want to be the best you can be,” Payne said. She adds that the crew sizes up a situation before they arrive and plan who will do what. Their ultimate goal is to get the patient to a hospital alive.
About 42 members actively serve with SVRS, according to the company’s first lieutenant, Judy Reidinger. Twelve have had Basic training; four are certified in Advanced Life Support (ALS). Sherry Lillard and Deanna Wayland have EMT-Enhanced training. Brian Ross, one of the company’s most active members – he lives just behind the station – is an EMT-Intermediate, or medic. Bridget Kosene-Brown is a paramedic. Seven people have trained as drivers, Reidinger said, and most of the EMTs can function as drivers.
And there are support members who have no particular training, but help in other ways, like fundraising. Payne says that it’s an enormous effort to produce the Miss Rappahannock pageant, the squad’s annual fundraiser. Others might write grants or make cookies for a bake sale.
“There’s a job here for everyone,” said Harold Beebout, who has been part of the squad for six years and now serves as the company’s chief.
“The people we have here are from all different backgrounds: construction workers, retirees, teachers, musicians, military, electricians,” Payne said. “It’s great because we see everybody else’s way of living.” She adds, “If I have a second family, this is my second family.”
The company welcomes new members. While they’ve been pleased with the turnout at their open houses, Beebout thinks the best method is “to get all our members energized to think about their neighbors and friends and who would be a good volunteer.” He values the personal invitation. That’s how Bauchspies and the Caspers were recruited. Aron Weisgerber, who teaches at Hearthstone School where the boys studied, asked them to check out the squad.
“We’d love to hear from people in the community,” said Payne. “We want them to know that the door is open.”
After enduring a period where membership was down and active members had other pressing commitments, Reidinger said, the company has recently bounced back – achieving a 93 percent response rate to calls in 2011. (Both an EMT and a driver must be available to answer the call; neither can go out alone.)
As the population ages, and as baby boomers enter their later years, the need for rescue squad service will grow. According to a study reported in the Journal of Emergency Medical Service in 2010, almost half of patients older than 74 years old came to hospital emergency rooms via ambulance. About a fourth of Rappahannock County’s residents are 60 or older.
“It’s inevitable that people [EMTs] will be paid” in Rappahannock, Beebout said, referring to the expanding older population. “There aren’t enough volunteers out there.” County Administrator John McCarthy has estimated that the annual salary cost for three EMTs – the minimum required – who work five day shifts a week, would be $170,000 to $210,000.
For now, though, the county reaps the benefit of committed volunteers.
“The good news is that our membership is more broadly involved and active than they have been for some time,” Beebout said.
And, the company is about to get a new ambulance, a 2012 model to replace their 17-year-old vehicle, after the state Rescue Squad Assistance Fund awarded SVRS a $120,000 grant. The company raised the remaining 20 percent of the ambulance’s price tag with the community’s support.
The new ambulance created a new problem, however; like most modern ambulances, it’s so tall it wouldn’t fit through the bay doors of the station, and even if it did, the ceiling inside was too low. So, the Sperryville crew’s latest construction project, which is already only a week or two from completion: the addition of a larger bay.
Small wonder that, as Bauchspies said, he “feels part of something big” when he is working with the Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad.