Longtime EMS official says goodbye

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 05:25 PM

The world has changed dramatically since Chuck Anderson joined Durham County Emergency Medical Services 35 years ago, but one thing hasn’t: Helping people is still the service’s top priority.

Anderson’s last day on the job was Thursday, and it was an emotional goodbye to the many friends he’s made during a lifetime of helping bind up the wounds of those in medical crisis.

But Anderson, 62, knows he leaves a service that in many ways is superior to what is was when it began in 1975 and offered only basic medical training for those who drove its ambulances.

Today, he said, the level of care people get at a crash or on the way to the hospital is vastly improved. He’s grateful to have been part of that evolution.

Anderson also leaves knowing that he helped save the lives of countless people, many of whom would have died without lifesaving heart resuscitation efforts where minutes count and trained emergency professionals make the difference.

“From my perspective, I think EMS is a place where you need to be strong enough to work under very difficult and stressful situations,” Anderson said. “EMS is an environment where you see life and death routinely. I think it takes a special, dedicated person to be able to do that.”

When Anderson talks about those “special people,” he’s referring to his coworkers, whom he called “a bunch of dedicated professionals who care about what they do. I’m just proud to be a part of that, because it’s a job of ups and downs.”

For his first eight years at EMS, Anderson was a paramedic driving an ambulance. He rose through the ranks and assumed supervisory duties, and about seven years ago was named assistant director.

He still remembers many dramatic events in his first years as a young paramedic, including a horrendous wreck on the Durham Freeway.

“It was so bad that the victims were unrecognizable,” Anderson said. “There was nobody alive. And the next day, I realized that two of them were people I went to school with.”

Those memories never leave him, but Anderson knows it’s better not to dwell on the negative, because there are so many people to help in the future.

“If it stayed with you all the time, you probably couldn’t survive the job,” he said. “You don’t forget those things, but you have to move on to the next patient and situation.

“You see some terrible, terrible things,” Anderson said. “But that’s offset by some very good things. You see a lot of people who die, but you also see a lot of people who, as a result of what you did, didn’t die. You have to take the good with the bad, and just know that you’re doing the best you can.”

Anderson, a Durham native born at the former Watts Hospital, joined EMS after graduating from Southern High School, joining the Air Force and spending a tour of duty in Vietnam, then attending N.C. Wesleyan College in Rocky Mount.

The director of Durham County EMS at the time was Mickey Tezai, who hired Anderson in 1978. Anderson wasn’t sure at first that the job would be a good fit, but he soon realized that’s where he belonged.

He never looked back.

But now, Anderson does look back – at a lifetime of helping people in medical crisis and supervising those who keep people’s hearts beating. It’s the end of a long, rich chapter.

“What’s the hardest part of leaving?” Anderson asked. “I would say: Missing all the people. Durham County EMS has a lot of good people. They all work together to make it the best. That’s what I’ll miss the most.”