03/19/06 — Volunteers say they will still be there when needed

View Archive

Volunteers say they will still be there when needed

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on March 19, 2006 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Rescue volunteers are still answering calls when the alarm sounds -- when they can. They're also meeting and competing -- when they can.

Their numbers are fewer today, and the meetings are less formal, said Mount Olive rescue volunteer Debbie Hennessee shortly before she became the first woman to receive a lifetime membership in the squad during a recent meeting. She has been a volunteer for 20 years.

"We're small in number now, but we're really big in heart," she said. "It's not just the individual who touches rescue. We know it takes the entire family. Alone we could not do what we do. I used to ride all the time, and I had a very understanding family."

She told the story of rescue wife Grace Lane, who would get the boots and gear ready for her late husband, Dempsey, when he responded to calls in the middle of the night.

Employers used to help, too. Older volunteers have said employers used to let them off work to respond to calls.

Back in the late 1950s when the Mount Olive squad began, the volunteers depended on the local funeral home for some of their transports to the hospital, especially when there were more than one or two injured, until the early '60s when they got their first ambulance, a Ford truck the squad still has.

"It evolves. It changes daily," Ms. Hennessee said. "We've seen a lot of changes through the years, but there is a lot of honor and a lot of dignity on these walls."

But today, the volunteers have to ask permission from the paid emergency medical technicians to use the building. And since Wayne County took over operations of EMS with paid staff, the other trucks have been dispersed throughout Wayne County.

The volunteers have fond memories when they see the yellow trucks.

"We think about the joy and the friendship we had when we see our truck on the highway," Ms. Hennessee said.

The Mount Olive volunteers were highly respected throughout the U.S. and took home many championships, said Buddy Shaw, who installed the officers.

Shaw said he got into rescue one year after the Mount Olive squad was organized. He's been in rescue ever since.

"People ask what happened to Wayne County?" he said.

He said he has nothing against paid EMS workers.

"There are things they can do we can't, because the volunteers can't get off their jobs."

He urged the volunteers to not give up. He said he doesn't think their role will ever be what it used to be -- including the old days when $6,000 would buy a truck.

Today, that same vehicle costs more than $250,000.

"There's no way volunteers can keep up with that," Shaw said. "Not enough turkeys and pigs can be killed to keep up with that."

It's becoming more difficult to be a volunteer, but he told the Mount Olive rescuers they can still go out into the cold night and hold somebody's hand on the way to the hospital. Sometimes, years later, that same patient might come up to his or her rescuer and say "thank you" for the care he or she received.

Shaw said it has been the thank-yous that kept him going through the tough years.

Dempsey Lane's son, Jerry, said one of the reasons he joined the Mount Olive squad was the kindness the volunteers showed his wife's uncle.

Brenda Lane's uncle, Bill McCullen, had a heart attack.

"The rescue people showed up at the house" Lane said. "They fought a valiant fight to keep Mr. Bill alive."

McCullen succumbed to the heart attack. Dempsey Lane went on to become a state EMT examiner.

Even though they understand the changes might be necessary, the volunteers say they will continue to serve where they can -- and be proud of their accomplishments.

"I don't know why decisions are made to change things. I guess that's progress," Lane said. "It takes a lot of training to keep things going now. I can remember my dad sitting over there studying for the EMT exam. When he passed that thing he was so proud of that."

That is a legacy his son says he will continue by helping others to achieve the same goal.