Super-centenarian Bill James to the rescue!

ONE-HUNDRED-NINE-YEAR-OLD Bill James at his Bristol home shows off a family photo taken when he was 17. Independent photo/John Vaaler

BRISTOL —  “Yeah, I drove until I was over 100,” said Bristol resident Bill James.

James will celebrate his 110th birthday this coming Monday. When he was born, William Howard Taft was in the White House and driving often meant horses, not cars.

Instead of expecting birthday presents, James has given a present of his own: a $25,000 grant to the Bristol Rescue Squad to install a new training room and other additions to the squad’s station. No stranger to Bristol Rescue, James first volunteered with the squad almost 50 years ago.

James made the gift almost eight years ago, but the squad finally completed the new training room this past April. And it has been a big help in recent days, said Bristol Rescue Chief of Operations Mark Rickner.

“We needed to create a second bedroom because people are staying overnight,” he said. “We couldn’t do training for people staying at the station so (the new room) allows us to stay set up as a training room.”

Beside the training room and more beds, another new addition to the squad will include a functioning air-conditioning system — a first for the department. “You can imagine what it was like when we had 20 people in a room without air conditioning,” said Rickner.

James’s donation, which Rickner said was made to the squad sometime in either 2013 or 2014, was one of several grants that put the new training room into the shape where it is now. Added together with James’ donation was a $3,000 grant from Walmart and other private donations. The donation from Walmart — which was facilitated by Starksboro resident Dawn Coleman, who is Williston Walmart manager. She also helped the squad purchase two iPads that are now being used to file patient reports. The new training room also sports a 70-inch TV that shows training videos for the first responders.


Born July 5, 1911, Bill James spent his working life as an electrician until his retirement in 1974. He quickly grew bored of kicking around the house and started volunteering as a driver for the Bristol Rescue Squad that same year.

“The last three years I was the designated driver,” James said.

Driving and volunteering with the squad was a real treat for James, who recalled the comradery he’d feel with the rest of the squad when attending the Sunday night meetings at Rosie’s Restaurant in Middlebury.

Although James saw a lot of adventure in his days at the squad, his earliest memory of his rescue days was a little more mundane.

“I remember taking the exam over at Mount Abe,” he said. “It was kind of a tough one, too.”

James recounted the most urgent rescue squad case he’d ever worked on.

“The most serious call I ever had was down the local lumber company a guy got his arm sawed off,” James said. “I attended him all the way, the two of us. We had a good driver and we had hustled about it. And we wrapped his arm in ice. And (I) took his arm with us…. And for some reason they did not attach it, so the poor guy was one-armed.”

James paused. “After, he recovered and he got a bunch of insurance… Anyway, he went into the trucking business.”

James stopped volunteering for Bristol Rescue in 1979 after five years with the squad.

“In 1979, I was (almost) 70 years old, I said, ‘My God, I guess I’m too old to be on an ambulance anymore.’” James added that he “never had any accidents, anything… I used to drive myself pretty well.”

James’s memories of his days volunteering at the squad remain close to his heart.

“I enjoyed it, I really enjoyed it,” James said about his experience driving an ambulance. “It was fun to go out helping with people like that.”

“The people I worked with, we had a coffee hour every morning,” he continued. “Now there are only one or two of them left. One guy in Salisbury, one guy in Addison. During the work I did, there were nice people…”


In 2009, James’ wife of 57 years, Mabel, passed away.

“After my wife died, I inherited quite a bunch of money, so I said I’m gonna help out (the Bristol Rescue Squad),” James said. “So, I gave them a large sum of money.”

James’s $25,000 donation to his old workplace was gratefully received by the squad. Rickner noted how expensive rescue equipment can be when describing the importance of the $25,000 grant. Rickner said that a stretcher, for instance, can cost $30,000. The $25,000 grant from James covered a significant chunk of the cost of building the training room, which was approximately $85,00-$90,000. 

The new room supported by James’s grant doesn’t just help out the squad — it’s already become a fantastic venue for events in the wider Bristol community.

“The first Saturday of the EMS week, we had (a) COVID clinic using that space,” Rickner said. “It’s created a whole new space that’s going to be used for community training. We’ll be doing community CPR.”

But the new room’s main purpose will be educating new first responders on the squad.

“The state of Vermont’s going to have a whole new level of emergency responder to try to have more people come into EMS,” Rickner said, adding that a new training program currently in the works will fully train volunteers in just one weekend.

Although his ambulance days were behind him, James drove his car up until he was well past 100 and still attended the squad’s annual meetings. He still has a soft spot for helping people in tight situations, and he has fond memories of Bristol Rescue.

And he’s learned a thing or two about taking care of people. Asked about what life advice he would give to a young person, the soon-to-be supercentenarian (someone 110 years old) had an immediate answer.

“The biggest thing is don’t smoke,” James said.

“Don’t drink too much, too,” he added.

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