DIAL 911

History of The Emergency Medical Services

In the Haverhill Area

(Photos To Come)

By Richard Guy

Emergency Medical Services Member from 1981 to present

In days long gone by, people needing to get to the hospital or doctor in emergency situations had to rely on their family, neighbors or the area’s undertaker to bring them in. In some instances, the doctor would come to the scene if summoned to help the sick or injured. Woodsville’s Dr. Eastman was one of those doctors who used to make such house calls. Ricker’s Funeral Home was the last undertaker to provide a hearse/ambulance to serve the region.

Our original ambulance service was formed with the efforts of a group of citizens who could see the need to have an ambulance that would provide care and transport to patients in the Cottage Hospital service area. These citizens formed the Cottage Hospital Volunteer Ambulance Service that was based at the hospital in a double garage out back. A handful of dedicated individuals formed the core of the CHVAS including Alden and Betty Minot (RN) of Bath, Doris Kennedy (RN) of Woodsville, Rich and Jan Kinder (RN ­ I see a pattern here) of No. Haverhill and Shirley McAllister of Woodsville. I’m sure there were others who may be offended that I didn’t remember them. I consider myself lucky to remember anything. Betty and Doris often taught Advanced First Aid Classes to train volunteers for the ambulance “Corps” as it was often called. The level of care was good but pretty basic by today’s standards. Looking back, our crews could be pretty “green” from an experience point of view depending on who was working as some of us went right on the job after class. This was common everywhere. Today, new EMT’s must ride along with our experienced crews for enough time to be comfortable in the field and to demonstrate proficiency with all the equipment and skills needed.

The hospital answered the ambulance “red phone” when a call for help came in and the nurses at the central nurse’s station would dispatch the crew. Usually, that meant phoning the homes of the volunteers signed up for the night. Volunteers had to stay near their phone. On weekdays, some of the hospital staff would cover the ambulance as most volunteers were at work. Our hospital affiliation did provide the community with a valuable asset in a real major event such as major trauma or heart calls. The nurse who dispatched a major call for us had the ability to grab an RN, several RN’s and/or the emergency room doctor to jump in with us or drive to the call to meet us depending on the need. The costs for service were minimal as we only paid for equipment and training plus an annual Christmas party being basically the only expense for manpower.

The service was directed by a president and board of directors who represented each of the towns served. When I was elected president around 1982, we had a wonderful board with Dr. David Frechette serving from Haverhill and keeping the level of medical care as high as practical. We had protocols for Nitroglycerine administration that some EMS units still cannot do today. He had us get the first Automatic Defibrillator in the Northcountry in 1986. It was a small suitcase sized unit called the HeartAid 97 that gave us the chance to give that all-important early shock in cardiac arrests. By that time, it was becoming harder to staff the ambulance with volunteers. We started paying a modest stipend for the weekend staff, as it was the hardest shift to cover. By 1988, we were hard pressed to cover shifts and our advertisements for EMT courses drew only a couple of responses. Our board decided it was time to turn our assets over to a group who could run a full time service with paid employees.

The Woodsville Fire District, under the direction of its board of commissioners, assumed the operation in mid 1988. Many of us who were volunteers with CHVAS came along with our two well-equipped ambulances. The Woodsville Rescue Team as an all-volunteer, self-funding group run by Fire Chief Bruce Robbins hosted the EMS integration into Fire District naming it the Woodsville Rescue Ambulance. Many in the Rescue team took medical training classes to help out. We parked our main ambulance in the firehouse in the center of Woodsville with sleeping quarters on the third floor. There was barely enough room to fit the ambulance into the building and we had to park our other ambulance at the hospital. On a few occasions, having the 2 ambulances housed apart proved problematic as crews tried to sort out where to find an ambulance in the heat of a big call. Dispatching was moved to the Twin State Fire dispatch center at the sheriff’s Department and made it much more efficient and easy to be on call and move about town. We started with 3 full time EMT’s and paired them with existing staff.

In 1995, we hired our first paramedic, Suzanne Prentiss who had just finished a federally funded job based at Dartmouth Hitchcock in Hanover. “Sue P”, as she is often called, is now the director of EMS for the State of New Hampshire. She helped us to evolve into a Paramedic Based EMS Operation and worked hard to upgrade the training locally as well as regionally. That same year, we moved into the new Emergency Services Building located on Route 10. The new facility houses the EMS and Fire/Rescue operations and the business offices. We also have ample room to train and comfortable space for the duty crew to live and sleep. We now have three fully equipped EMS ambulances worth about $150,000 each. Our staff is all paid to be ready 24 hours a day. We try to have at least one Paramedic on duty on all shifts. Paramedics are trained to provide all of the emergent field care needs of patients in dire need of advanced care such as heart attacks, or other life threatening events. With the introduction of the enhanced 911 system at dispatch, Woodsville EMS now offers the quickest, best equipped and trained emergency response system available.

Our EMS manager is Stephen Robbins. For a tour of the facility during daytime hours, feel free to call 747-3311 or stop in to see if the crew is available to show you around.