by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
ORONO, Maine — Orono Fire Chief Rob St. Louis is on a mission, and it has nothing to do with the fire and smoke of a burning building. It has to do with gathering together those who once were members of the Orono Volunteer Rescue Squad, in order to hold an event to honor them.
“We’re reaching out to the volunteers and want to get old photos and their stories about their service with the squad,” St. Louis said.
A committee composed of St. Louis, Orono Councilor Tom Perry, Deputy Fire Chief Henry Vaughn, Orono Recreation Director Steve Martin and Assistant Recreation Director Maida Robichaux have held several meetings to plan the event, which they expect to take place sometime in October. After copies of photographs and stories are collected, those items will be organized into a booklet to be presented to rescue squad alumni. The booklet also will made available to members of the public at a later date.
The Orono Volunteer Rescue Squad began to take shape in 1972, under the leadership of Judy and Bob Tredwell, and many other volunteers. “We incorporated in 1972, but we didn’t really get on the road until July 1, 1974,” recalled Judy Tredwell, who teaches chemistry at Eastern Maine Community College. “We had to train people, and we had to raise funds.”
The squad also had to purchase an ambulance; the total cost was $15,000, St. Louis said. The town paid $8,000, a federal grant kicked in $5,000, and $2,000 was raised through private donations.
From the start, community support for the Orono Volunteer Rescue Squad was strong. “We asked 300 people for a three-year pledge of whatever they could give,” said Tredwell, “and only two people defaulted; one person died, and the other was involved in serious accident.”
Board members for the newly fledged organization were John Blake, president; Charles H. Perry, vice president; Judith B. Tredwell, secretary; Jacquelyn R. Wagner, treasurer; and Dr. Mark Boyd, Theodore S. Curtis Jr., Marleen Doucette, Joseph R. La Beau, Jody LaBeau, Richard Leland, Gary Noyes, the Rev. John W. Neff, Rex Pyles, Alan Reynolds and Beverly Styma. Bob Tredwell was the rescue squad’s original chief of operations, responsible for “personnel on every shift, the vehicle, the equipment and community public relations,” Tredwell said.
Kim Mumme, Bill and Carole Halteman and Nancy Benigno also served as chiefs of the squad.
The idea for a volunteer rescue squad arose for several reasons. “When we first moved to town, if you fell out of bed and needed help, the fire department would arrive in full gear. If it was determined that you had broken your hip, then they called the local undertaker for the hearse.” At that time there was no other vehicle in town equipped to transport the ill or injured to Bangor to the hospital. A popular TV show of the time, “Emergency,” about an emergency rescue squad in Los Angeles, also served as inspiration, Tredwell said.
“People could see the need for it [the rescue squad]. The time was right,” Tredwell said.
For a few years, the ambulance was based out of a barn at the Tredwell’s home on Bennoch Road. She, her husband, son and ambulance crew volunteers kept the driveway shoveled when snow fell. Back in those days, the crew used the Tredwell’s washing machine if sheets or blankets got soiled during the transport of a patient to the hospital.
Often the Tredwells got up in the middle of the night to make coffee for the crew or to shovel snow. They also were members of the rescue squad and took their turns as ambulance crew. Bob Tredwell was the first ambulance service director in Maine, Judy Tredwell said, and he wrote many of the laws that became the foundation for emergency medical service in Maine today.
There were no shortage of volunteers. “We had University of Maine professors and students, high school personnel and residents of Bradley. Volunteers from Indian Island took night shifts and stayed overnight in a small room at the Keith Anderson Community Center. Bangor people who worked at an ambulance service there also volunteered. It was a very mixed bag,” Tredwell said, “but the majority were from the university.”
Some of the volunteers went on to become doctors, physician assistants, professional emergency medical technicians and related careers.
“Chuck McMahan, the director of Capital Ambulance Service, is an alumni of the squad,” Tredwell said.
In 1980, a building to house the ambulance and its crew was constructed on Bennoch Road across from the post office. That building was torn down recently to make way for a parking area for the University of Maine Credit Union building that will be built on the adjacent land known as the Katahdin lot.
The breadth of the rescue squad’s contribution to the area came home to Tredwell when her car slid off the road one winter in Holden, and she was obliged to call 911. The police, fire department and an ambulance responded to her call. “Of the four men in those vehicles, three were rescue squad alumni,” she said.
But as emergency service rose beyond the competency level to being staffed by full-fledged paramedics, Tredwell said, those in the field were seeking full-time jobs, making it more difficult to recruit volunteers.
In 1999, the Orono Fire Department took over the rescue squad to provide paramedic service 24/7, St. Louis said.
“It was time to do the right thing,” Tredwell said, “and the fire department had come around to the idea that they could do both firefighting and ambulance work.”
When the transition came, it brought with it two ambulances and a nest egg of $80,000.
“We did something that was needed and valuable at the time. The time was right,” Tredwell said.
Alumni of the Orono Volunteer Rescue Squad who wish to share photographs, memories and stories are asked to contact Rob St. Louis at 207-852-1033, or go to email@example.com.