BANGOR, Maine — When Paul Knowlton started as an emergency medical technician on his first ambulance crew 37 years ago, they just picked up injured or sick people and took them to the hospital.
“We had basic skills. We provided basic care,” said Knowlton, 71, who retired Friday from Capital Ambulance in Bangor.
Nicknamed “PK,” Knowlton said he took his first EMT class while he was a student at the University of Maine just to learn about first aid. He went on to be one of the first EMTs in the region to be trained in emergency advanced life support, said Chuck McMahan, director of Capital Ambulance.
“At that time, he was one of the few paramedics, and now we’ve got a hundred or so,” he said. “He showed us the way.”
Whenever there was a chance to get additional education, Knowlton jumped at the chance, McMahan said.
“When they got the defibrillators, he was the first one trained. The same thing goes for cardiac medicines,” the ambulance director said.
Knowlton has amassed a lot of knowledge over the years that he’s shared with fellow EMTs.
“He’s done more calls than probably any of us will ever do. While driving, he’ll tell you this happened there, or there was an accident on this corner that was really bad. He’s been an ever presence in the EMS community,” McMahan said.
Injuries involving children and deaths of patients are always hard, Knowlton said, adding simply that they also are part of the job.
“It’s not all emergencies,” he said. “The dialysis patients go three times a week. We take them in and get quite close with them. All our paramedics are familiar and quite friendly with [the regular transports].”
Kevin Batchelder, who shares an office with Knowlton at Capital, described his officemate as “the hardest working person I’ve ever met.”
“He’s kind of old school — whatever it takes to get the job done, he’ll do it,” he said.
The veteran EMT-turned paramedic has a way with people, said Bangor fire Capt. Troy Lare, who also is a paramedic and worked with Knowlton in 1981 at MEDEC Ambulance, which was later bought by Capital Ambulance.
“He always had the ability to keep people calm in stressful situations,” Lare said.
Knowlton had a list of sayings that he used to keep his co-workers grounded, his friend said.
“In an hour, we’ll be having a cup of coffee and piece of pie,” is one of Knowlton’s sayings Lare found especially helpful. “He was always the teacher, always trying to teach to the new people, and he was always really good with the families and the patients.”
Knowlton didn’t start out as an EMT. He studied agriculture at the University of Maine and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1963, before he earned a master’s degree in animal sciences in 1966.
After graduation, he worked as a cowhand on a dairy farm in New York for three years before becoming a research assistant at the UMaine Animal Science Research Laboratory on the Orono campus in 1970, a post he held for 18 years. His research involved dairy cattle at UMaine’s Witter Farm.
“He called them ‘The girls up at the university,’” Lare said. “He’s a character, [but] he’s very humble in who he is as a person.”
Knowlton earned his EMT license in 1976 and began working at MEDEC and the Orono Volunteer Rescue Squad. He started at Capital Ambulance in 1991 and between 1998-2000 was also a paramedic for LifeFlight of Maine.
Despite retiring from Capital Ambulance, Knowlton will stay on at County Ambulance in Ellsworth where he lives with his wife, and he will continue teaching CPR at Eastern Maine Medical Center and the Education and Training Center, both in Bangor, McMahan said. He will also continue serving on the Maine EMS board of directors.
Knowlton said there are two major reasons why he stuck with the job for nearly four decades — the adrenaline rush and he liked “helping people.”
“It’s so trite, but it’s true,” he said, while standing in the Capital Ambulance bay on Union Street. There are a couple things Knowlton has learned from his years on the ambulance that he wanted to pass along.
“Don’t drink and drive, wear your seatbelt, long-term smoking is bad — any smoking is bad — and keep your diabetes under control,” Knowlton said. “And little old people get osteoporosis and do things like break their hips. These are the lessons I’ve learned.”
His boss said Knowlton will be missed at Capital Ambulance.
“He epitomizes the promise we make — he’s there when you call,” McMahan said.