Vermont AEMT, RN celebrates 40 years in EMS

Candy Hall of Stowe Rescue has made a lifetime commitment to her community and will keep serving as long as she is able

When Candy Hall of Stowe (Vermont) Rescue brings patients to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, the staff treats her like she’s one of their own.

She is.

Hall spent 27 years as an ICU nurse at UVM, beginning seven years after she answered her first call in 1975 as a brand new and very nervous member of the town’s volunteer EMS squad.

“I was riding as the third (not counting the driver),” said the 58-year-old AEMT. “The call was upstairs in this little apartment. It was respiratory, I think.

“My job was to be the gofer; you know, go get this, go get that. I’d go down the stairs, out to the truck, get something, go back upstairs, then get sent downstairs again for something else.

“I really didn’t have a lot of patient contact. I was just worried I wouldn’t know where everything was.”

Volunteering led to a career

Finding her way around the ambulance turned out not to be a problem, so Hall became an EMT and kept riding – for 40 years, at last count. She credits her father as an inspiration.

“He wasn’t an EMT, but he was very involved in town politics, first as a selectman and then as a state legislator,” she said. “I was 18 and wondering how I could help the community, too. Fire was never my thing, but when rescue got started I felt a deep connection.”

Hall remembers the camaraderie of those early days.

“We were a small group, closely connected. Everyone had their radios on and knew where everyone else was. There was always someone there if you needed help; all you had to do is ask,” she said.

Like so many other EMS providers who start as volunteers, Hall decided to make medicine her career. She became an RN in 1982 and continued to ride with Stowe Rescue. Right away she noticed differences between inpatient and prehospital care.

“You’re on your own more in EMS,” Hall said. “You have protocols for guidance, but you’re still making decisions before you hand the patient off.”

She offers an example.

“A few years after I got my RN, I took a call with Stowe for a kid who got hit by a car,” she said. “His legs from the knees down were just demolished. They were squishing when I palpated them.

“How are you supposed to splint that? The best way was with the MAST suit. I’m not even sure we carry them anymore but on that call, it was just what we needed. That patient healed fine.”

Nursing is broader than EMS, notes Hall, but RNs don’t usually work as independently as paramedics or EMTs.

“Doctors are right there with you, especially in critical-care units,” she said. “Each role is unique and a necessary part of the overall healthcare team.”

New era for training demands

Contributing to that team every day is a challenge for any volunteer squad. Stowe Rescue continues to struggle with staffing and training obstacles.

“When we started in 1975, the squad was more like a family,” Hall recalls. “There was a plumber in town who would drop everything to go on a call. Same with the guys on ski patrol.

“That was a very different era. Now you can’t leave your job in the middle of the day, anywhere, to take a call. If it’s your own business, you can’t afford to and if it’s someone else’s business, they won’t let you.

“The other big problem is the time it takes to stay certified: 72 hours of CME every two years. I think that’s crazy. Vermont is losing lots of volunteers.

“We have a general meeting at Stowe the first Monday of every month, and a training session on the third Monday. You used to be able to maintain your certification if you went to both meetings. Now it’s not enough.”

Like many EMS agencies, Stowe Rescue hired key personnel to supplement their volunteers.

“We have a full-time paid administrator and a full-time paid paramedic,” Hall said. “We also have per-diem medics.

“The biggest problem we’ve had maintaining medics here is that they get bored to death because there just isn’t that much medic stuff to do. The ski patrol has their own medics who are first responders, so even when there’s real multi-trauma coming off the hill, they’re packaged by the time we get there.

“It can be hard finding opportunities to practice advanced skills.”

Teaching students to go beyond the books

Practical training is something Hall knows a lot about. She teaches nursing at Vermont Technical College, with clinicals at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.

“I use the term ‘RN-level thinking’ a lot, especially when I have an EMT/student-nurse or someone who’s been an LMA (licensed medical assistant) or a nursing assistant,” Hall said. “They’re used to reporting to a nurse that a patient is having chest pain, but what about when they’re the nurse? What are they going to do about the chest pain? What’s Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work?”

Hall thinks communication is an undervalued and underdeveloped skill for many healthcare professionals.

“Whether you’re a nurse, a medic or an EMT, you need information to treat a patient,” Hall said. “Being too intense about getting that information can make people feel you’re dissing them. Starting with ‘Hi, how are you?’ can make a huge difference and only takes 15 seconds.”

EMS is a family affair

Candy isn’t the only volunteer in the Hall family; husband Peter and sons Lucas and Nick are members of Stowe’s fire department.

“I joke with Lucas that he’s been a volunteer since before he was born,” Hall said.

“There are pictures of me nine-months pregnant running calls on the back of the truck.

“EMS is what I do for Stowe,” Hall said. “I don’t see myself stopping until I physically can’t do it anymore.”

Expect this headline in 10 years: “Vermont AEMT, RN celebrates 50 years in EMS.”

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