BETHEL – For 80 years, one family has remained committed to the local ambulance service. But they can’t say what exactly is in their blood that has kept them tied so long to emergency medicine.
Perhaps the closest guess? Caring and compassion, Arlene Greenleaf said, describing the qualities necessary to be involved with the vocation. She sat on her couch next to her husband, John, on Thursday afternoon in their Bethel home, talking about the Greenleafs’ unwavering dedication to the town ambulance.
Now, to honor the family, some folks are interested in naming the Bethel ambulance barn Greenleaf Station.
Bethel Ambulance Service director Cheryl Bennett said Thursday by phone that she wanted to honor the longest serving director, Arlene Greenleaf, and the rest of the family.
“I just had the greatest admiration for her because she really made this ambulance service what it is today by putting many long hours of dedicated time into here,” Bennett said. Arlene was director twice, in the early 1980s, and then from 1985 to 2003, and she is still working. “And also the fact that amazed me was just that there has been that one family from the beginning.”
Selectmen will decide whether to adopt the new name at their next meeting.
Sherman Greenleaf, a local veterinarian and the owner of a funeral parlor, started the ambulance service circa 1926. The Greenleafs and local historian Stan Howe figured that Greenleaf founded the service around the time the hospital in Rumford opened.
Back in the early years, Greenleaf’s hearse doubled as the ambulance. They just popped a red light on top when running a patient to the hospital, and then placed a placard on the back to note the transportation of a corpse.
Greenleaf trained his three sons to help him, John Greenleaf said. John started working for his father when he was 13, and did it for 40 more years before retiring.
In 1975, the town took over the ambulance service from the Greenleafs, Arlene Greenleaf said, and the name switched from Greenleaf Ambulance Service to Bethel Ambulance.
Arlene said she was inspired to become a first responder after she met her husband, who was teaching a course on civil emergency preparedness.
Their son and daughter both worked on the Bethel ambulance as well, beginning when they were teenagers. Now their son works as a paramedic in Portland and their daughter is a nurse at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.
So far, none of the grandchildren has expressed interest, Arlene said. But that could change.
“I guess we like helping people,” Arlene said.