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Thirty years on call: Service is part of LaPete’s family

LISA LAPETE, LEFT, a leader of New Haven First Response, has spent a lifetime in service to people in times of need. Her daughters, including Haley Lauziere, pictured here, serve with her on the squad.

I just love patient care.
— Lisa LaPete, New Haven

NEW HAVEN — The end of July marked 31 years as a rescue squad volunteer for Lisa LaPete, the Head of Service for New Haven First Response.

“I really take pride in being an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and serving to give back to community,” she said.

LaPete, 55, served for more than 20 years in Milton, where she grew up and where her brother worked as a fire chief.

She got a hint of how intense the work was right off the bat.

One of her first calls was a former classmate who had gotten in a car wreck and had the steering wheel stuck in his chest.

“I was holding head stabilization on him, and we were joking about school, something about the lockers… As soon as they got the steering wheel out, I just felt the heat leave his face,” she said.

“Either this is going to do me in or this is going to make me stronger later,” she thought at the time. And though it was far from an easy experience, LaPete said she thinks it has made her stronger.

“I’m really good on scene,” LaPete said, adding that fellow squad members and patients alike appreciate her ability to keep cool and calm.

LaPete is trained as an Advanced-EMT, which means she is capable of administering certain medication to patients onsite and before they get to the hospital. Often, LaPete’s medicine is all patients need.

“They call me the 10-93 queen,” she said, laughing. Those numbers denote the dial tone for “no transport is needed.”

Part of that ability comes from experience.

After putting in two decades with the Milton rescue squad, where LaPete said she and her shift partner were so practiced at working together they didn’t even have to speak, LaPete started volunteering with the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad 11 years ago. She started serving on the New Haven squad when she moved there seven years ago.

Last year, LaPete clocked in 3,200 volunteer hours with the squads, on top of working a full-time job at UVM Medical Center, where she has worked for nearly 30 years. That was nothing compared to previous years when LaPete was averaging 4,000-5,000 hours.

“I just love patient care,” LaPete said.

And it’s in her blood.

Several of LaPete’s extended family members work with Milton Rescue and Milton Fire, and her sister did Emergency Medical Service (EMS) work in Grand Isle before she passed away. LaPete’s two daughters still work with her closely.

“They were into it because I was into it,” LaPete said of her daughters. When they were little, the kids would accompany her to meetings and trainings, and often be around on shift nights.

“It was our second family,” LaPete said.

But the habit — and the skills — stuck.

“Both girls could do better inventory on the trucks than most of the crew members by the time they were 10,” she said. Her daughters started as full squad members at ages 14 and 16.

Her eldest, Nikki-Lyn Sickles, now 29, is a member of the Vergennes squad and married to Vergennes firefighter Steven Sickles.

Haley Lauziere is 25 and works as a first responder in New Haven.

Every other Sunday, the family has dinner at LaPete’s house and almost always rescue work is part of the discussion.

“We talk about it all the time … I’m so proud of them,” Lisa said.

For all of them, giving back to the community is the central piece of what makes EMS so important, LaPete said.

“It’s about giving gratitude to your community,” she said.

FEWER YOUNG PEOPLE

But while every shift night used to feel like “family night,” with ice cream to eat and card games to play, LaPete said that for the most part the younger generation doesn’t have the same passion and commitment, and it affects the squad vibe.

Far fewer young people — or people at all for that matter — are willing to volunteer their time. So squads have started to allocate their meager funds to pay new members to come on. But this isn’t necessarily a win, according to LaPete.

“It’s because we’re desperate … but often these people come from outside of the community, they don’t know the roads … it’s a job to them,” she said.

For LaPete, there’s something meaningful in not being paid.

“I work so hard … it’s rewarding and I don’t expect a dollar back,” she said.

But she does wish it could be different.

“If they were able to pay everyone equally it would make a big difference,” she said.

For the time being, “I wish I could give these young folks half the passion that I have,” she said.

That passion has endured through years and years of witnessing, touching and talking to people in painful, sometimes life-threatening situations.

“Some of the shit you just can’t make it up … it’s devastating sometimes,” LaPete said.

She works through the “heart wrenching” moments by destressing and debriefing with her crew, as well as occasionally seeing a counselor if she feels like she needs it.

“It’s important to me that my crew is OK,” she said. And she does her best to make sure that they are.

“I feel like I’ve brought so much to EMS, especially with my girls,” LaPete said.

After 30 years, people do tell her this kind of work has a shelf life.

LaPete’s response: “I never gave it up and I probably never will.”

“It’s true that the adrenaline isn’t there like it used to be, but when that tone goes off, I just have to go,” she said.

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