Ann Rivers answered the call in the city and environs with VARS
VERGENNES — “I miss it. I’ll be honest: I miss it,” said Ann Rivers, who devoted more than two decades to serving her community on the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad. “When the sirens go, I miss it.”
Rivers, 66, retired from VARS this past April after 21 years spending countless hours in and out of ambulances and helping people in all kinds of emergency situations.
“But it’s time to travel and spend more time doing fun stuff,” Rivers, 66, said in a recent interview.
In those 21 years with VARS, Rivers, who was an advanced EMT for VARS, has seen the rescue squad change quite a bit, both in terms of rigor and in skill level.
“Now it’s getting more intense,” she said. “They’re always adding on medicine that you have to go to school for, which is very helpful with a patient.”
Indeed, the requirements for working with VARS can be surprising.
“We have to learn how to do a 12-lead,” said Rivers, describing the process of using electrodes to monitor a patient’s heart. “You would do a 12-lead on somebody and send it right to the hospital and they could read it … And each year they would add more and more on.”
Rivers’ interest in medicine and rescue work developed from a very early age.
“Back in high school, I took a nursing program to go to nursing school,” the Williston native said. “And then when I graduated I got married. I’ve always wanted to do something like that. And my neighbor across the road, actually, got me involved in rescue.”
The sort of person who spends more than two decades on a rescue squad knows a lot about the routine.
“It takes a lot of time away from home and family,” Rivers said. “You have to go to trainings once a month, and sometimes twice a month.”
Rivers said the minimum time she would be on call and responding to emergencies was 72 hours a month, but she often did more; sometimes she would do 200 hours in a month.
“I lived close to the station and I enjoyed it,” she said. “Sometimes I’d do 10 extra shifts a month.”
As with any profession involving medicine and care for others, working on a rescue squad is not for everyone, Rivers acknowledges.
“Some people can do the job and some people cannot. And that’s fine. Not everybody can be on rescue squad,” she said. “You’re there first on scene — you get to see the whole mess.
“You really have to be dedicated,” Rivers added. “You need to be prepared to be away from home.”
And sometimes, you need to be really, really far from home. In 2005, Rivers and a crew of 13 ambulances traveled to Houston, Galveston and Beaumont, Texas, in order to assist with Hurricane Rita relief efforts.
“It was totally amazing for me to see something like that,” Rivers said. “Because you can see it on TV and that doesn’t mean a lot, but when you see it in person, it’s so devastating. But the people down there were just awesome. They were so grateful that we came all the way down from Vermont.”
And Rivers kept at it for another decade, getting to know her craft, her community and her fellow rescue workers better over the years. Rivers is well liked by her VARS colleagues.
“I’ve worked with Ann for a number of years. She’s a wonderful caregiver and friend,” said VARS secretary Wendy Patch.
Rivers’ EMT certification expired in June, but she will likely still be in contact with VARS. Her daughter, Sara Rivers, is now the president of VARS, so the rescue squad is no more than a siren or phone call away.
Rivers plans to spend more time with her family and travel to Florida in the winter and Ontario in the summer where she says her husband, Charles Rivers (who is retired from a career at Green Mountain Power), likes to fish.
“I’m just enjoying life,” she said.
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