After 13 years serving as an emergency medical responder, Crystalee O'Dell is being awarded for her basic life support.
This week marks the 50th anniversary for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Vermont. Tuesday, honorees were awarded by Health Commissioner Harry Chen at the State House in Montpelier. Gov. Peter Shumlin proclaimed May 15 to 21 of this year as EMS week to acknowledge the volunteers and professionals' dedication, according to a release.
O'Dell works as an emergency technician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center but is also the chief of services of the Pownal Rescue Squad.
"Well, I'm trying not to cry. It's a big honor to be the one, it means a lot. I never thought I would be here, let's put it that way," she said. "I'm very privileged and had a lot of support pushing me along. I'm very thankful for everyone."
O'Dell's close friend who is a part of the North Adams Ambulance service in Massachusetts wrote a letter to the Vermont Department of Health as a nomination. She received a phone call and email with the good news, and attended the dedication Tuesday.
George and Dorothy Cook are the founding members of the Morristown EMS and will receive the first-ever Lifetime Award, according to a release. Jean Pierre Gervais from Lyndon Rescue Squad will receive the Advanced Life Support Provider of the Year, while Jillian McLaughlin will receive the EMS for Children Champion of the Year award, South Burlington Fire Department will receive the Ambulance Service of the Year award, Kate Soons from EMS District 3 will receive the EMS Educator of the Year award and Mount Mansfield Ski Patrol will win the First Responder Service of the Year award.
The public celebration ran from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with educational activities for all ages, displays of vintage equipment, search and rescue dog demonstrations, technical/rope rescue presentations, car seat inspections, blood-pressure checks, a coloring contest and "sidewalk CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)" training offered at no cost.
O'Dell started her career as a first responder at the Pownal Fire Department, then acquired her EMT (emergency medical technician) license, worked for 10 years with the Bennington Rescue Squad and ended up back where she is now. Her husband works as the town fire warden, and one of their kids in the junior fire department program while the other plans to pursue the medical field. O'Dell said that she's fortunate to have these opportunities with her family being associated with her primary work focuses.
Her goal is to continue to restore the squad.
"There's a lot of good and bad everyday, but I see the positive of every day and I'm fortunate enough that my family stands behind me," she said. "For 15 years we didn't have industry in Pownal and people couldn't leave their jobs to take calls during the day. I've rebuilt that. I want people to know that Pownal rescue still survives and that we can take daytime calls and can fulfill the need in the community. I'm trying to slowly bring that back around."
O'Dell does everything from CPR to holding someone's hand. "Sometimes that's all it takes to be their comfort."
Pownal Rescue Squad is a volunteer based organization. It was founded on January 24, 1959 and was the established first rescue squad in the state, according to its Facebook page.
The EMS' volunteering doesn't just happen on the weekends or weeknights, but all the time.
"Basically it's 24 [hours] seven [days per week]," she said. "When I'm not working my job at the ER [emergency room] I'm doing EMS whether it's training or attending classes. I'm the one people can come to if they have issues or I can refer them on. I enjoy doing it for the community for the people in Pownal, they don't have a lot there and I enjoy doing that."
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.