March 5, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — The latest recipient of Vergennes American Legion Post 14’s annual Community Service Award typically travels a few hundred yards to help her fellow citizens, but twice has also traveled thousands of miles to give aid to those in need.
On Thursday night at its annual birthday dinner, Post 14 will give its 13th Community Service Award to Ann Rivers, 58, a Vergennes Area Rescue Squad crew chief and vice president who lives just down the street from VARS’ Panton Road headquarters.
Rivers has put in at least 72 hours and typically more than 100 hours a month while serving as a crew chief, and has also been the agency’s treasurer and clerk at different times over the past 12 years.
Rivers has worked her way up from the basic level of emergency medical technician (EMT) to the intermediate level, essentially the highest level recognized in Vermont. That process means at least a hundred hours of new education for each step along the way as well as continuing education to maintain each level.
And as well as serving the Vergennes area, Rivers volunteered in the fall of 2005 to drive an ambulance to Texas, where she spent two two-week stints helping that state’s rescue services deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
According to Legion official and Community Service Award committee member Henry Broughton, Rivers was a solid choice among a typically strong field of candidates, who according to the service club’s rules cannot be Legion members.
“We all recognize Ann is a very dedicated person in the rescue squad,” Broughton said. “She does a real service for the community. That’s one of the things the Legion looks at when we make the selection. We can say she’s an outstanding person who serves her community unselfishly.”
‘I ENJOY HELPING PEOPLE’
Rivers is a Williston native who came with her husband, Charles “Ed” Rivers, to Vergennes 30 years ago, when he took the job with Green Mountain Power he still holds. She focused on raising her two children until the early 1980s, then worked as an assistant to then city manager Mel Hawley (last year’s service award winner) until the early 1990s.
At that point her children, Sara and Travis, were adults, and acquaintances suggested she consider volunteering with VARS. Rivers was intrigued, and has not regretted joining despite the challenges of not always dealing with successful outcomes.
“I had some friends who basically talked me into it. I enjoy helping people … and that was basically the main reason. It has its rewarding times, and it has its bad times, but it’s worth it overall. I find it gratifying,” she said.
The rewards, Rivers said, are the successful outcomes and the ability of she and other EMT’s to reassure their fellow residents in crises.
“(It’s great) when you can save somebody’s life. In a small community like this we basically know everybody we treat. And when they see you walk through the door they have a smile on their face, you know, that they know someone. That makes them feel better,” she said.
Things don’t always work out, however, and Rivers said the calling has trials that many on the outside probably cannot fully appreciate.
“If you lose a patient, that’s quite difficult. But we have a good system. They furnish counseling … You just talk to EMS (emergency medical services) people who know what you’re going through,” she said. “You’re basically making decisions on what to do with this person’s life,” she said. “It’s quite a responsibility. It’s scary sometimes.”
TRIPS TO TEXAS
Some of Rivers’ greatest challenges came in Texas in September and October of 2005, when she was among 13 Vermont ambulance crews that served in Houston, Galveston, Beaumont, and several central Texas towns. While New Orleans got the lion’s share of publicity, she said, Texas also was hammered by Katrina and Rita.
“I’d never seen hurricanes or tornadoes, and just the devastation was unbelievable,” she said. “They always talk about New Orleans and how devastated it was there. I saw worse. There were towns in Texas where there was nothing left.”
Down there the Vermonters helped out at nursing homes, rescued people stranded in homes and ran typical 911 calls.
“We went down to relieve their EMS system because they were exhausted. They were working 24-7,” she said.
The help from the Green Mountain State was more than welcome.
“The people down there couldn’t believe that we came from the state of Vermont to help them. They were just so happy. It was very rewarding to do that,” Rivers said.
The challenge of being an EMT, one reason the Legion has chosen to honor Rivers and, several years ago, VARS president Steve Fleming, was starkly highlighted during her visit.
“I had one bad call. I can’t go into detail over it, but it was a bad call. I called home crying,” Rivers said. “It was an automobile accident, and they said most of them down there are very bad. The speed limit down there is 85 mph on a road like this out here (Panton Road).”
Still, Rivers believes many should consider volunteering with VARS, for the community service, for the sense of teamwork rescue work can offer, and for the sense of satisfaction it can bring. But she acknowledged that, understandably, it’s not for everyone.
“Not everybody can do it, and we tell that to new members. Even some older members will get to a call and some of us get sick,” she said. “But that’s normal. I mean, we’re all human beings. It’s very challenging. It’s very rewarding. It does build up your confidence and self-esteem in yourself. You’re saying, ‘I can do this.’”