Many of you reading this don't know me. I am not from "around here." My name is Samantha Clark. I am a nationally registered paramedic, with an associate’s degree in EMS from Eastern Maine Community College. I am also the newest full-time employee with Camden First Aid Association. Though I am not personally from Camden, I am a native Mainer born and raised in Downeast Maine, near Calais. I am ingrained with the typical pride and hard work ethic that is so common in this state. I started my career in EMS as an EMT-Basic with a private service from my hometown, since then I have been fortunate enough to work for many different services and types of services. I have worked as a paid volunteer, getting paid per mile, I have worked for private for-profit companies, and for a national conglomerate EMS provider. I have worked full-time in both New Hampshire and Maine, and have recently been able to move back into Maine and found gainful employment here. I am proud to list Camden First Aid as my full-time employer, given its rich history with this beautiful community.

Camden First Aid has been a part of this community since 1936, providing a much needed but often forgotten service. In my short time here I have seen a difference between what we do here as Camden First Aid, and what I have been doing for the past six years. We provide treatment to our patients, but we also provide care. There is a difference between treatment and care. In EMS there is often a confusion and misuse of the term "care." Often treatments provided are labeled as care rendered, our billing run reports are referred to as "patient care reports,” but in reality what was done for a patient is treatment. Nationalized standard curriculum for emergency medical technicians and paramedics has leveled the playing field in terms of treatments. We are all taught how to treat a patient's illness or complaint in the same manner, however it has been my experience that the care that is provided can vary greatly from person to person, and service to service. Care is that extra step that we provide. It can be the little things like locking the door before we leave, and feeding the cat before we take the patient to the hospital. It can be taking a patient who is normally bed confined out of the way to see something that they normally can't go see. Every employee here at Camden, whether full-time or part-time, cares about their community and the patients.

The majority of the employees at Camden First Aid are what I call "locally grown." They are born here, raised here and wouldn't live anywhere else. They love this area. They love their communities and it shows. These are people who come in whenever they need to and can, to ensure that no call goes unanswered. I, myself, live in Hope which is currently covered by Camden First Aid. I have left dinners on the stove, dropped everything, to answer additional calls when the other crews are busy. It is the commitment to excellence, not just the proximity, which makes the employees of CFAA a cut above the rest. They are familiar faces, people that you know. You see them in the grocery stores, at the bank, running errands around town. If you are fortunate enough, you never have to see them in the back of an ambulance, but if you do, you are comforted knowing that they are with you because they are recognizable.

Emergency Medical Services is not a field that you go into to get rich. It's not all excitement and adrenaline. Steven Kelly Grayson, a CCEMT-P and author of "A Paramedic's Story: Life, Death and Everything in Between," wrote a speech for a new EMT Basic class, and put the reason to be in EMS well;

"You should bother because EMS is a calling. Even when you leave EMS, it never really leaves you. It’s what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said, 'Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it and gnaw it still.' You should bother because, even if we're not saving lives, what we do matters. It matters in ways unnoticed by us, to people you may not even remember tomorrow. You should bother, because it's the little things that matter. Most of your patient's are ignorant of your skills. Few of them understand the technology you wielded so expertly. But they'll remember the smile you gave them, or the way you tucked the blanket in to ward away winter's chill, or the way you stood in the rain, getting drenched as you held the umbrella over them as your partner loaded them in the rig. They'll remember calm competence, and gentle speech. They'll remember the joke you made to lighten the tension. They'll remember those things and more, and they'll remember your face long after you've forgotten theirs."

I am fortunate to have found my bone to gnaw at. I truly love what I do. I know that everyone here at Camden First Aid shares that sentiment.

Recently, CFAA has been getting attention in the community, regretfully not for the wonderful service that we provide. Nationally, there is a financial crisis and here it is no different. We are struggling to keep our doors open, negotiating with the towns that we serve to reach that goal. We are cutting expenses where we can, doing as much as we can without effecting the level of care and service that we provide. Mistakes have been made in the past, there is nothing that can be done to change that. Finger pointing aside, there is a new chief in place, as well as a new Board of Directors and we are looking to the future. Recovering isn't done overnight and it cannot be accomplished without community support.

I understand that the recently proposed budget seems impossibly large, but given the amount of trucks and people required to ensure adequate responses, it is necessary. Last year the towns that we covered paid $56,000 for coverage that includes four fully stocked ambulances capable of Advanced Life Support, crews to staff those trucks as needed, diesel to run them, insurance to cover the vehicles, electricity and other utilities at the station that the vehicles are housed in, plus medical supplies that are one-use only and state licensing fees. Sounds like quite the bargain when put on paper, given the average yearly salary in Maine for a Paramedic is $34,777*(which is below the national average). Camden First Aid currently employs 10 full-time employees, five paramedics, three intermediates, one basic. There are also 20 part-time employees/paid volunteers that include, three paramedics, two intermediates, eight basics and six non-healthcare providers/ambulance drivers. The full-time employees receive rates that are comparable to other employers in the region, and the paid volunteers are compensated for their time fairly.

It is because of all of these people that no call goes unanswered, and there is not a heavy reliance on mutual aid from communities further away. Larger companies that can offer service at a lower cost can't guarantee coverage from volunteers the way that we do. They will depend largely on their full-time staff, and end up paying out for full-time wages. Eventually, that expense won't be able to be ignored or absorbed. Cuts will then be made, or a renegotiation of town contributions, and then we are right back to where we are now with one difference — Camden First Aid will be gone.

I believe that 77 years of service means something. I think that the community members can agree with this. It is unfortunate that the contract amount had been ignored for so long, given that if it had been increased slowly over the last 20 years we would not be facing this current crisis. The sticker shock that we are seeing now could have been avoided. It is impossible to put a price tag on a life, but in some cases it can be just that. In a cardiac arrest, 7 minutes without oxygen flowing to the brain can lead to significant brain death. Eliminating personnel or downsizing to two trucks could mean calling in mutual aid, which means a longer response time to the patient. As tempting as a lower price tag can be, remember the phrase, “You get what you pay for.”

*Salary.com Search Source information.

Samantha Clark is a full-time employee of Camden First Aid Association.