NH EMS agency honors volunteer for 45 years of service
Mary Andrews, who is also a registered nurse, began her EMS career as chief of a three-person crew and stored the ambulance in her garage
By Deborah McDermott
YORK, N.H. — Forty-five years ago, Mary Andrews was chief of a three-person crew on the very first ambulance owned by the fledgling York Volunteer Ambulance Association. It was stored in her garage, with a heater inside to keep the oxygen warm powered by a yellow electrical cord that snaked inside her house - and that sometimes inadvertently went on rides with the crew.
Today, as Andrews steps down from the YAA board, she caps a volunteer career that has continued unabated since that first ambulance run and includes more than 20 years as board president. Current President Eric Bakke said the association is now a regional service, with a staff of 37 including 15 paramedics, 10 advanced emergency medical technicians and 10 EMTs.
"We know you leave the organization on a very strong footing," Bakke told Andrews as former and current board members, crew and town workers gathered recently to commemorate her service to the YAA. "Your combination of leadership, knowledge and experience will be greatly missed."
Her retirement from the YAA board is her last significant volunteer commitment to the town that included several stints as selectman as well as state representative and state senator.
Andrews, a registered nurse, recalled those early days as many of her old crew and early board members listened. Then called the York Volunteer Ambulance Association (the word 'volunteer' was dropped as it became more professional), the service began after a woman in medical distress had to wait for an ambulance to come from Kittery (long-time board member Lou Butler recalled it was a hearse) only to take the woman up the hill to York Hospital.
"When we first started, it was almost pick up and go," said Andrews. "You didn't give medicines, you didn't defibrillate and that sort of thing. The only thing we could do was give oxygen."
Andrews trained her crew and subsequent crews for many years, up until the state mandated specific offsite training of EMTs. Because of her involvement, in the 1970s former York Hospital president Martin Ulan hired Andrews to set up the hospital's emergency room.
"It's been an interesting time here," she said. She remembers one memorable call when in the crew's haste to give the patient CPR, they failed to fasten the stretcher in. "Here we are going down the highway chasing the stretcher from the front to the back of the ambulance. It was pretty comical," she said.
But there have, obviously, also been sad moments - particularly at the beginning when York was a much smaller town than it is today. "Sometimes it could be tough. You knew a lot of the people you were transporting. It could be pretty personal," she said.
Since the 1990s, she's been board president, until Bakke took over last year. "I remember I would drive down from Augusta when I was serving in the Legislature, and then turn around and go back up."
"Now that's dedication," said long-time board member Joyce Stowe.
"It's sick," quipped Andrews, with her typical dry humor.
Board members and current crew said having someone of Andrew's knowledge over the years has been invaluable.
"She was an RN first of all," said Lou Butler, who was on the board when the YAA began. "She just made things happen, which is really no surprise if you know her. She was the medical center of it. She was the teacher. She's a very special person."
Karen Tucker, chief of operations for YAA, said having someone on the board with Andrews' medical background "has definitely been helpful. It's amazing to see someone who started the organization and who has stayed involved as she has. You don't see that anymore. She's always had our best interests at heart."
"She wasn't just a president," said York Village Fire Chief Chris Balentine. "She was a worker. She was a leader by example."
With her last volunteer gig behind her, Andrews said she doesn't plan too many changes. She will continue working a couple of days a week at the Village Quilt Shop in North Berwick, where she has a small yarn business inside. "I quilt and I teach lessons. I have a 'stitch and bitch' session every Thursday night," she said with a wry smile. "I even do some hooking."
She said it was time to move on from the YAA. "I don't have it in me anymore. But it's been a good thing that has benefited the town of York. I like to think we have the best ambulance service and have right from the beginning."
Copyright 2018 Portsmouth Herald