NEW GLOUCESTER — Avis Ford’s 40 years of service as one of this town’s first volunteer rescue workers ended two weeks ago when she responded to her last call.
Though her license as an EMT won’t expire until December, Ford turned in her jacket bearing her name and No. 6. She joined the group’s auxiliary unit.
Day and night, year-round, Ford, 71, was prepared to heed any call for help within the 45 square miles of New Gloucester. As one of the first members of the New Gloucester Rescue Squad, she is credited by the creator of the squad with giving an “incredible” amount of service and outreach to the public.
New Gloucester resident Pat Vampatella, a registered nurse, had just moved to New Gloucester in the early 1970s when she noticed a void in service. She became the principal leader, with the help of others, of an effort to form a first-responder rescue unit for the town. At that time, working without a town ambulance, New Gloucester’s volunteer rescue squad only stabilized patients waiting for an ambulance.
“People just had to transport themselves. Nothing was available. The Fire Department had a resuscitator and in some cases offered basic first aid service,” Vampatella said. “I agreed to get something done.”
Initially 12 resident, including Ford, took classes at Central Maine Vocational Technical Institute, now called Central Maine Community College, where they qualified to become basic EMT responders.
After that, for years volunteers manned red phones in their homes to dispatch Fire and Rescue calls. Volunteers had pagers. Everyone was a volunteer.
Ford recalls the unit ran like a regular organization at the Lower Gloucester Fire Station. Firetrucks had to be removed from the garage and space set up for the volunteers to train. Regular meetings, training sessions, drills and certification renewals were ongoing.
Ford remembers drills that included mock school bus evacuations and water rescues. Once she had to rappel down a cliff to reach a mock victim.
“It took me 35 years before I helped deliver a baby in a private home,” she said.
“And many calls were too hard to bear. . . . We needed to be debriefed before heading home,” Ford said.
For instance, three years ago Ford responded to a shooting on Bennett Road where two people were killed.
“I had to attend to one of the victims,” she said. “When I left, I went to see my minister.”
In 1975, the first year of the rescue unit, volunteers responded to 69 emergency calls. In 1986, the unit responded to 239 calls. Now, the unit responds to more than 550 calls annually.
“Rescue has been my life, even when I cared for my husband, mother and father-in-law,” Ford said. “I will miss the crew. I gave it my all.”
Despite her departure, Ford will remain more than active in the community. She serves her church as a deacon, works 17 hours weekly for Pine Tree Home Health Care and is the town’s agent for the Salvation Army. A member of the New Gloucester Historical Association, Ford is also known for her baked goods delivered to others, especially her bread and hot rolls.
Vampatella said Ford and those like her who help their neighbors and perform community service work are motivated by dedication and concern for others.
“It’s the real caring kind of person who becomes a police officer, a firefighter or rescue worker. People who care,” Vampatella said.