How did you get into EMS?
JO: Wow. Well, I've always been interested in the ambulance business. My father was a physician in the ER and also a surgeon, and I used to go with him to Carney Hospital in Dorchester when I was 3 to 5 years old and I loved to watch the ambulances come in. Then, when the TV show, Emergency, came out in the 70s, it had paramedics. I revisited the idea of working on ambulances, and thought, "that's pretty cool." My sister got me into an EMT class when I was 19 years old, offered at the Carney Hospital through Labouré Junior College and that started it. The EMT was never enough, though, to do just the basic life support. So I researched what was involved in being a paramedic, and I enrolled in paramedic school in the mid 80s and got my paramedic certificate in 1986.
I'm also a licensed RN. I did that training in 1990-1993 at Quincy Junior College and I worked at University Hospital in Boston as an RN for 6 months. I was working in Weymouth with Brewster Ambulance Service, doing 62 hours a week then. 38-hour stretch Thursday night through Saturday, and then a 24-hour stretch on Sunday, school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and left school Thursday and went right to work. Getting my RN education helped me tremendously as a paramedic because I learned so much about medicine, diseases, medical conditions and diagnoses, which helped me provide better patient care as a paramedic. However, I realized during that time working at the hospital that being a paramedic was really my passion.
I went to Northeastern for my paramedic training, and it was different than most classes: six months classroom work, six months clinical hospital duty and two weeks in Jersey City to get my 100 hours of clinical time in the field riding in an ambulance on a non-transport truck. It was awesome. Northeastern was totally different than every other class at the time. We were streamlined. You got your training in a year, and then you could take the test.
Have you ever thought of training paramedics?
JO: No. Because you know, a lot of people have asked me that. I've done some teaching when I was on the non-transport with Brewster Ambulance in 1993 (Jordan B9). I was never interested in doing formal education in a classroom setting all the time. I have when needed, but a lot of the teaching I like to do is with students who ride with me. We just had a student ride with Deb (Johnson) and I for his paramedic ride time and I had a blast teaching him how to do IVs in the field and assessments, and now he's ready to take his paramedic test. I like that setting because it's informal. Being in a classroom always makes me a little nervous, and it's never been an interest of mine. I'm better off teaching someone out in the field rather than in a classroom setting. I feel I have more to offer in that informal setting. I get asked often because I've been around a long time to take paramedics to do some ride time and to provide evaluations on new paramedics.
When did you first start with Brewster?
JO: Great story. It was May 1987 when I started. I was with Cataldo and I got contacted somehow that Brewster was starting up paramedics. They'd never had paramedics, that's why I was with Cataldo for 10 months. Brewster was looking specifically for paramedics. My dad knew George Brewster Sr., so I called Brewster and talked to John Fields. I remember talking to him about it and he told me how much he was going to pay me an hour, and he kind of started at the hourly rate and then said, "if you come over now, I'll add 50¢ an hour." I told him it wasn't about the money—it was the opportunity to start at a company that I knew and had a great reputation and I had an opportunity to start fresh.
A brand new company, brand new ALS system, in on the ground floor. I lived in Kingston at the time, and I had an opportunity to either work in Plymouth or Brookline. I was a brand new paramedic and the only place I could work was in Manomet, Plymouth, but the activity was low there, about one call a week. I decided to travel to Brookline from Kingston because I wanted to learn how to be a better paramedic. I was 27 years old, I was excited, I wanted to learn. So I chose to go to Brookline where it was much busier. We didn't even have ALS right when I started. We weren't due to go online with ALS until July or August, and it was May. So I made a leap of faith to leave Cataldo working as a paramedic to a place that wasn't even online with paramedics. But knowing the reputation of Brewster at that time, I felt very confident that everything that George Sr. said was going to happen was going to happen. It was the best decision I've ever made in my career to hook up with Brewster Ambulance.
How did you get set up at Braintree?
JO: Mark (Brewster) asked me if I'd be interested in going to Braintree and start out that contract. We were established in Plymouth, and I was honored to go to Braintree to help start that contract. He said you'll be working with Deb (Johnson), a brand spanking new medic, and he asked if I could do it, and I said yes. Mark said I could go back to Plymouth or stay in Braintree, but I just needed to help make sure it started off smooth. I went to Braintree schools my whole life. Braintree is my home town.
What makes you so dedicated?
JO: I love this job. This has been a great place to come to to do my life's work which is to help people. I took care of my mom, who was a nurse, my whole life, she had scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder. She eventually had central lines, total parenteral nutrition (TPN) through an IV because she couldn't eat and she still would go to work. She'd get sick before she'd go to work and she'd go to work, come home and hook herself up to this IV for nutrition. She had Raynaud's disease as well, which caused poor circulation in her hands. She had three fingers that were literally rotting off. She'd go to work with band aids over these black tips. That's the reason I never called in sick in 32 years. She was sicker than anybody I know and she always went to work. I just do it to honor her, her fight and her tenacity. Helping her my whole life and being there for her, going in there every day and making sure she was alive two to three times a day, take her to doctor appointments, get her medicine, bring her tea—all sorts of care—from when I was a little kid. I have this passion. This job is a passion for me. Being in the medical field. I needed to do more than EMT. I felt helpless when I couldn't breathe for them, give them medicine, start IVs.
Describe a call you were on that made an impact.
JO: It's very recent. Deb and I and our third rider, Matt, did a call at the Braintree South Shore Plaza. Fire was on scene, it was raining and there was a woman in cardiac arrest. We got her immediately into the ambulance, CPR was being done, fire was amazing, it was like a well-oiled machine. Got her in, got her immediately on the monitor within 30 seconds in the ambulance. Deb is at the head doing the airway, the monitor got put on, fire was in the back with us, CPR was being done. Matt was at the monitor. I am across from the monitor on the bench seat.
We put the combi pads on the patient and she was in defib. I see the rhythm and I'm always double/triple checking with my partner. I always ask what does that look like to you? I always say that. I won't put words in their mouth. You never make suggestions, you get confirmation. I said to Deb, "Deb what does that look like? Confirm that for me." And Deb said, "She is in defib." I said Matt, "Do you want to defib her?" He's a student, he's familiar with the monitor, he's allowed to do patient care, so he defibs the woman, "CLEAR," he does it the right away, hits it and she jumps right into normal sinus rhythm. That is rare. It was awesome. She goes into normal sinus rhythm, we get her to the hospital and she makes a full recovery and walks out of the hospital a few days later. That's a legitimate save. To me, a save is when they walk out of the hospital intact. Matt was a part of that save. We all were. The fire department, me, Deb, Matt. And being a third rider, it's rare that you get a save. I couldn't have been happier for him. He's a great kid, and I'm so happy he got to experience that. We all worked incredibly well together. One of my best calls to date.
What is it about Brewster that makes you know it's the place for you?
JO: The family atmosphere. In all my years, when I first got to Brewster, I felt like I was part of a family. I really did. Coming back to Brewster, three and a half years ago, I immediately felt the same. I was welcomed with big handshakes and hugs—a homecoming for me. I'm back where I belong. I could not have been happier. Being asked to come back a month early to help with Plymouth, helping people, helping out new hires and being a mentor, that was an honor. I've always been treated with respect and appreciation from them and I have worked very hard to stay who I am and show them that they can look to me and ask me anything and I will do whatever they need. Brewster cares whether or not you're here or not, unlike others who treat you like a number. They value good employees. They want good employees. And Mark (Brewster) has said many, many times, "If it weren't for you guys, I wouldn't have a business." He understands how important we are. To be part of a business that is growing is very exciting. They've asked me many times to help like in Braintree to get it off the ground. It was an honor and a privilege to do it. Those reasons and 1,000 more are what make me appreciate where I am. I know I have a job for the rest of my life, and that's comforting.
What's ahead for you at Brewster?
JO: I'm looking forward to continuing to work with Deb, continuing to stay out on the road, to help people and continue to do the best I can to help the company. I am eager to mentor anybody they want me to mentor and to continue to do whatever they want me to do that's going to help them out. I'll continue to bring a high level of care to all of our folks in Braintree. They love us here. The firefighters, the police, they love our team. We bring some happiness and good care to this town. I want to stay here. But if Mark would ask me, "Could you help in Plymouth for a little bit?" I would. But I'm coming back to Braintree. I love it here. It's rare that you can work in your home town at a job you love. Fire and police are incredible here. Love it here.
What advice would you give a wanna-be paramedic?
JO: When I got my training, you had to be an EMT for a year before paramedic school. Now you can go right into paramedic school. The advice I would give is to do EMT for a year or more, make sure you like it, the pace, going out all night, that you like patients and you can do the job. Work in the field and get some experience. You'll get more out of paramedic school if you've had that EMT experience beforehand.