Denise Harriman, a volunteer EMT with Stockton Springs Ambulance, has won the EMT of the Year award from the American Legion, Department of Maine. She will be presented with a plaque at Stockton Springs American Legion Post 157 in the near future. The Republican Journal met with Harriman July 21 at her home in Stockton Springs.

TRJ: How long have you been working with Stockton Springs Ambulance?

Harriman: I have been with Stockton Springs ambulance since 1991. I work full time as a medical assistant at Stockton springs Regional Health Center, and the ambulance position is volunteer. I usually do four or five shifts a week, two or three nights and time on the weekends, depending on availability.

TRJ: How did you get involved in emergency services?

Harriman: I started working at an emergency room as secretary in 1989, and I met a lot of EMTs who talked me in to becoming an EMT. I started in Searsport, and when Travis and I got married we moved to Stockton, so I started here.

TRJ: Did you know you wanted to go into medicine when you were in school?

Harriman: No, I had no idea. I went to school to be a travel agent, then Eastern Airlines went under so I was looking for other work. My mom told me there was a job at the hospital in the ER. Once I started working in the medical field I loved it. So I went on from there.

TRJ: What do you think set you apart to be chosen as EMT of the Year?

Harriman: I have no idea, I love what I do, and I guess I have a lot of compassion for people and I have stuck with it for a long time, but I have no idea. I know so many EMTs and emergency people that have put so much into EMS that it blows me away. When I got the local award I was like, "OK I kind of get it because I've been in the service for longest." But when I got the state award, I was like "How in the world did that happen?" I don’t really feel deserving of it. I can think of so many people who are. I am still flabbergasted. I don’t know how they chose me.

TRJ: Have you noticed any changes in the Stockton Springs Emergency Services since you started in 1991?

Harriman: We’ve gotten a lot of people who’ve moved in from other places, and they started being really active in the community. A lot of people on the ambulance service and in the fire department didn’t grow up here.

We’ve only had two directors while I’ve been here whereas other communities seem to have that position change a lot. Phyllis Hall did it for years and years and then her health got bad and Chas Harris [came on]. You have the same people in the core of the community and then you bring in other people in to get involved.

We’ve also gone from having only a basic crew and now we have intermediates and we actually have a couple of paramedics on our roster. So our level of care has advanced over the years. There’s been a lot more requirements from the EMS, they require a lot more equipment now and more training. It requires more time.

Using lifeflight has been really awesome since it has been available to us. That’s saved a lot of lives. They have so many more skills and so much more they can do for patients. Just as long as we can recognize that that’s what’s needed.

TRJ: Do you get calls in middle of the night? How do you handle that?

Harriman: I can get calls any time of night. There are nights when we can go out a couple of times, and as I’ve gotten older, its been harder to recover afterwards. I try not to do two nights in a row, so I can usually recover. I try to stay healthy, I try to eat well and I exercise and try to get sleep when I can sleep.

TRJ: Were there any particularly memorable calls for you?

Harriman: The best call ever was the day before my birthday the year before last year a baby was delivered on my ambulance, baby Anna. That was incredible to see and to be a part of it.

There have been a lot of deaths that have been significant. But probably the hardest was when Phyllis’s husband died, around 1998 or 1999. That was really hard because we had to tell her when we got to the hospital he didn’t make it. With her being the director at the time, that was the hardest.

TRJ: It’s pretty remarkable that the EMT of the Year and the Firefighter of the Year are from Stockton Springs.

Harriman: I also believe the Police Officer of the Year is from Stockton. The first person that told me about my award was Darren Moody’s wife. He got it the award for the police and Gene Ellis got it for the firefighters. I guess people in Stockton, when they dig their heels in to do something, they stick with it.

TRJ: Is there a good community among volunteer emergency service workers?

Harriman: It’s like a family, it really is like family. I think of my co-ambulance people like brothers and sisters, and the firefighters, you can call them at any time and they’d drop everything for you. I think everyone thinks of each other as family. Because it’s a small community too, right after I had my daughter I took a little time off and every time you hear sirens go off, you think, "Gee, I wonder if I could do something to help?" If you hear about an accident while you’re away, you think, I wonder if I could have made a difference.

TRJ: When you’re out there with someone suffering, you must have to have a specific skill to be able to put aside your feelings.

Harriman: You zone in to what is going on, and deal with the after effects later. That’s when it’s good when the crew is like a family because you can get together to talk through things that happened.

I can’t really talk about what happened with my family because of HIPAA and privacy laws. It’s nice to have people to talk to talk it out with and relax.

TRJ: Do you ever feel like you could have done more or that you made a mistake?

Harriman: I think that part of EMS is that if you come away from every call thinking there might have been one more thing, or if there was something you learned from that call, then you’re still learning. But when you stop caring, that's when you need to be done —when you think there’s no more to learn. That’s one thing I really like about medicine, is it is constant learning. Always something more to learn.

We work in teams with intermediates and basics and paramedics. I’m at the intermediate level. I tell the basics, "If I’m missing something then let me know," because everybody has to work as a team. Sometimes the higher level is focused on what they have to do and they might miss something that’s really tiny but really important. We have to work together. You can’t think that if you’re a higher level you’re more important.

I will often tell the basic attendants to do their assessment and then tell me what they need me to do. You can’t have that attitude that you’re better or you’re more important because that’s when things get missed.

TRJ: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Harriman: Just that I wouldn’t have been able to be able to do it all these years without the support of my husband and daughter. I know there have been a lot of times when when they think “really?” when my pager goes off, like when we’re going to a barbecue, you can see them rolling their eyes. But they understand that if they needed the ambulance they’d want someone to come. So they’ve been very understanding over the years.

TRJ: What is your daughter planning to do now that she’s graduated from high school?

Harriman: She wants to go into radiology. She’s always been involved, and has been helping out with blood drives and being part of the community volunteering. I tried to raise her to be part of the community and volunteer.

TRJ: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, and congratulations!