The North Adams Ambulance Service gets its license around 1978 with longtime President Barbara Wagner in the middle.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — North Adams Ambulance Service was created in 1978 to fill a void in emergency care in the city.
The closure of the private Mohawk Ambulance Service prompted a dedicated group of directors and about a dozen emergency medical technicians to form a new nonprofit to service the city and its environs.
Some 40 years later, its workforce is closer to 100 and it covers most of North Berkshire and a wide swath of Southern Vermont. It merged with Village Ambulance and it's ready to embark on its next chapter with a new name and new logo.
"What it's turned into has been a nationally recognized organization," Robert M. Moulton Jr., president of the ambulance board and among its first emergency medical technicians. "I'm very proud of it and very proud of the people, and to be a member of the board of directors."
The ambulance services' 40th anniversary was celebrated on Wednesday night at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Some 200 invited guests mingled over hors d'oeuvres from Grazie Ristorante and looked over the long table filled with awards, recognitions and the history of the ambulance service.
It ended with the unveiling of its new moniker: Northern Berkshire Emergency Medical Services.
The new logo centers the Mount Greylock Veterans Memorial and its beacon on a mountainous terrain with an orange and gold maple leaf behind. The EMS division has a heartbeat, the van transport service a winding road.
The rebranding effort was a result of the merger with Village that was effective on Jan. 1. The financially struggling Williamstown ambulance service was facing closure last year but was brought under the management umbrella of NAAS through a collaborative effort with the town of Williamstown and Williams College, which provided the financial backing.
Amalio Jusino, assistant chief and operations manager, said the charge was to come up with a name and image that would symbolize the joined services' mission to the community.
"My goal was to bring our lives together, to bring core individuals from each agency together to make a sustainable, a powerful, positive and all-encompassing image as a result of the synergistic decisions that were being made," he said.
Emergency services officials admitted that organizations tend to get territorial over coverage but Village and NAAS were connected between personnel who had worked at both organizations and a collegial professionalism.
"It's almost like getting married, it's almost like we got together and started dating and this just got better and better and better, there was no agendas, there were never words of anger or a power struggle," Moulton said. "It just worked so smoothly ... it was like it was always meant to be."
Dr. Erwin Steubner, former president of Village is now vice president of Northern Berkshire EMS. He complimented the expertise and professionalism of the combined medical service.
"After exploring all the options to the decision to merge was really for me and for our board, easy," Stuebner said. "It's a strong service we have now and it's certainly much more stronger than it was. The community is fortunate to have us.
General Manager John Meaney Jr. and Jusino both noted that this was National Emergency Medicine Week and that the theme this year is "stronger together." They felt the integration of the two ambulances was an example of how collaboration and unification could strengthen a much-needed service.
"We have much to be proud of during our 40 years, we have received hundreds of accolades for patient care provided by our employees," said Meaney. "Our employees are the backbone of our being 40 years successful. ...
"We are truly stronger together and because of that our patients and the communities we serve are the ultimate winners."
"I'm glad the decision was made to combine the organizations before something greater was lost for everyone," said Brian Andrews, president of Emergency Medical Services of Berkshire County. "This collaboration takes a difficult situation and takes the best of these two organizations and makes EMS of Northern Berkshire County — and all of Berkshire County — that much stronger and much better for the citizens who rely on its life-saving services."
The gathering also watched to videos showing pictures and articles of NAAS history and of the events leading up to the merger. There were several other speakers who shared their recollections and congratulations.
Bruce Shepley, a nurse and early squad member, recalled how difficult communications were at the time the service began. There was no 911 but rather bulky radios and antennas. Emergency medicine as a specialty didn't exist, as doctors at the hospital took turns covering the emergency room. Sometimes it might be a pediatrician, other times a surgeon.
The new logo puts Mount Greylock front and center; a heartbeat and a star of life differentiates EMS from the transport services. At left, the older logo for NAAS used the clocktower at Mass MoCA with a Mount Greylock tiny on the left side. The coins with the old logo were passed out to guests.
"It was a very very different time," he said. "There were no mentors. We did not go to the generation before us and say, 'what do we do in this situation?' We had a textbook, we had our training wherever we got our EMT from ... we turned to each other. A lot of it was common sense, though there was a little trial and error in there."
Meaney some of the highlights of the service's history. It started with $35,000 and worked out of 500 square feet at the fire station until moving to its current location at the corner of Harris and River streets in 1994. The service had to add on another 2,000 square feet in 2009 and purchase more ambulances. Over the years its coverage area has expanded to Clarksburg, Florida, Monroe, and Stamford and Readsboro, Vt. It provides back up service for Adams, Cheshire, and Savoy.
Meaney also pointed out the efforts of Barbara Wagner, who was president from the service's inception in 1978 until her death in 2006, and to John "Jack" Leu, who joined the board after closing his Mohawk Ambulance and remains involved.
Former Mayor Richard Alcombright shared his story of the "gravy crime scene," when his mother had fallen trying to move a crockpot with a pot roast. Alcombright said he'd gotten an alert but finished what he was doing because he knew NAAS would be responding. When he got to his mother's, there was gravy everywhere — one EMT was cleaning up and the other was helping his mother wash up.
When he asked her if he could tell the story, his mother had nothing but praise for the EMTs.
"The one thing she said that really stood out to me, she said, when they come here they are my friends," Alcombright said. "They all took care of my mom. Is there a greater honor, John, you could receive than being called 'friend.'"
Also speaking were Geoffrey H. Sprague, the ambulance service's first general manager; Patrick Carnevale, director of the governor's Western Massachusetts office; James Kolesar, assistant to the president for public affairs at Williams College; Jason Hoch, Williamstown town manager; and Deborah Clapp, executive director of the Western Mass EMS Office, Region 1.
The service also received resolutions and congratulations from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, state Sen. Adam Hinds, and state Rep. John Barrett III. Two new ambulances with the new name on them were also unveiled in the courtyard.
"I'm excited for what comes next and what you're going to build on this foundation of saving lives, of giving comfort and modeling unparalleled professionalism," Mayor Thomas Bernard said. "On behalf of the city of North Adams, I offer my sincere congratulation and here's to the next 40 years and more."
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