April 5, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — When the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) takes to the road, it’s usually to respond to a serious accident or medical emergency. The adrenaline is pumping and time is of the essence.
But this past Saturday, March 31, MVAA members finally went on a casual road trip, one in which they — and not their patients — were the center of attention. The occasion was the “2007 Vermont Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Conference and Awards Banquet,” where the MVAA scooped up a whopping three of the seven statewide awards handed out during the evening, including the prestigious “2007 Vermont Ambulance Service of the Year” citation.
“I would say the people of Addison County, and those in particular served by the MVAA, have a great deal to be proud of,” said Dan Manz, EMS director for the Vermont Department of Health, which coordinated the awards presentation at the Sheraton Conference Center in South Burlington.
“The awards (received by the MVAA) recognize not only great work, but sustained great work,” he said.
Along with being recognized as the state’s top ambulance service, the MVAA saw two of its members singled out for individual accolades.
George “Wedge” Murdoch, current president and a charter member of the MVAA, took home the first-ever Vermont EMS System Improvement Award, which recognizes a lifetime of adapting to, and implementing, new EMS technology for the benefit of patients.
The MVAA’s Penny Supernaw also made a trip to the podium, receiving the 2007 Vermont ALS (Advanced Life Support) Provider of the Year award.
“I was inordinately pleased,” Murdoch said of the MVAA’s impressive awards haul. “We received a great deal of recognition, and I think it was well-deserved.”
For the past 19 years, the Department of Health has given out awards annually to the state’s top emergency responders, rescue squads, hospitals, nurses and physicians. What make the awards particularly special, according to Manz, is that they are given based on “nominations from people in the field” — patients, peers and citizens in area who are receiving and providing emergency services.
“It’s like ‘The People’s Choice Awards,’ rather than official recognition from the state,” Manz said.
A review panel made up of past award recipients, educators, EMS managers and Manz reviews the nominations and picks the winners.
The MVAA nominations were very persuasive this year, including one written by a patient served by Supernaw.
“She was there when I had my heart attack,” read the letter. “My fear was growing and then she helped me understand the situation and the impact of everything going on. She stayed by my side as long as I needed her.”
Supernaw was also credited for being a mentor to new MVAA members, being a team-builder and an outstanding trainer.
Murdoch, who helped found the MVAA back in 1971, was credited for helping the ambulance service transition from basic to advanced life support services, and from an organization staffed exclusively by volunteers, to one that also includes some full- and part-time paid staff. During his 37 years with the organization, Murdoch has also seen the advent of new technologies and equipment, from defibrillators to sophisticated breathing apparatus.
When Murdoch started, the MVAA’s “fleet” consisted of a converted hearse. The organization now operates four ambulances and a heavy rescue vehicle.
“I think the quality and sophistication of the service we have has gone way up and beyond,” Murdoch said.
He was very modest in accepting his award.
“I stand on a lot of people’s shoulders,” Murdoch said. “Overall, I hope I’ve been part of the solution, not the problem.”
The awards committee gave the MVAA high marks for the strides it has made during its nearly 37 years. Those strides include:
• Taking on heavy rescue responsibilities back in 1978 in order to extract patients from vehicles at accident sites.
• Boosting its financial foundation from relying upon community contributions to assessing fees to go along with Town Meeting Day support.
• Ramping up services from basic level care, to intermediate level care, to the current paramedic service.
• Building a service that currently counts 56 members who tend to more than 2,000 calls for services in 11 Middlebury-area communities each year.
While 2007 is barely three months old, it has already been a great year for the MVAA. The EMS awards come on the heels of the MVAA being honored for its service at Middlebury’s annual town meeting in March.
Members of the MVAA hope 2007 will get even better, as the organization is hoping to nail down a new headquarters. The MVAA has outgrown its current digs on Elm Street.
But for now, they’ll spend a little time between calls enjoying the bouquets that have been thrown their way.
“I’m very proud,” Murdoch said.