By Debbie Adams
Chief Tom Philpott joined the Vinton First Aid Crew on November 22, 1971. He will be retiring at the end of December after 50 years of service to Vinton, East Roanoke County, and beyond.
Members of the First Aid Crew honored Philpott for his decades-long dedication to the community at their Officer Installation Dinner on December 13.
Sgt. Nicole Vincent noted that over those 50 years, Philpott has “served in almost every office in the crew at one time or another. He served as captain (which is the same as today’s chief) in 1997-1998 and as chief from 2010-2016 and again currently. Tom also served in board of directors positions, including president of the board. He has been instrumental in the specifications and obtaining of several vehicles for the crew, as well as spearheading improvements to the building and construction of the current building.”
Philpott is originally from Henry County. Both sets of grandparents lived in the Roanoke area, so he spent a good bit of time here as a child. He came to Roanoke to attend National Business College, accepted a job back in Martinsville, but soon returned to Roanoke to work for Appalachian Power. He retired from Appalachian Power as Area Supervisor for Facilities Management.
The chief says he was at a gas station on Pollard Street in downtown Vinton early on when a siren went off, calling First Aid Crew members to an emergency. A volunteer rushed to answer the call. When he returned, Philpott asked him how to join the organization. He was told there was a very long waiting list; however, when the man found out Philpott was trained through APCo in American Red Cross First Aid and CPR, he asked him to complete an application and he soon became a member.
“The rest is history,” Philpott says 50 years later.
Vinton First Aid Crew Captain and Treasurer Mitch Vaughan shared some memories of their early years together as volunteers.
“We were in one of the first EMT classes taught in the Roanoke Valley,” Vaughan recalled. “At that time, only physicians were allowed to teach the course. When ALS (Advanced Life Support) operation was first proposed in our region, or as it was called in those days “Mobile Intensive Care,” we were in the first class to become cardiac technicians, which was the highest certification that you could receive at the time. Once again, this was taught only by ER docs and cardiac care physicians and specialists.
“When we first started running at the ALS level, Vinton only had four or five providers. Practically every call was dispatched as ALS and since we had no real sleeping quarters, those were run from home, except if you happened to be in the area of the call or the station. Roanoke County provided cardiac techs with special handie-talkie radios and every ALS call woke up all the cardiac techs in the county so, needless to say, there were a lot of runs to neighboring stations in the county.
“We used to have to call ‘Medical Control’ by radio on each ALS call and report the patient status and even send an EKG if needed and the physician would then issue treatment instructions. This was always Lewis-Gale no matter where you were transporting the patient, as Dr. John Garvin, an ER doc there, was the driving force behind the start of the ALS program. So, we became very familiar working with him, and him with us and our individual abilities.”
On one call, “Tom was giving a report to Dr. Garvin by radio on a call Vinton had run and at a break in his report, Tom was interrupted by Dr. Garvin basically saying, ‘Tom, do what you were trained to and need to do for your patient. I have some (idiot) on the other radio calling in that doesn’t have a clue what he is doing.’
Vaughan also recalled, “When the first paramedic class was offered in the Roanoke Valley, Tom was on board. This was taught at Virginia Western Community College in the evenings, so with there being so few active cardiac techs, we had to leave the class many times, jumping into our response car of the time, a Pontiac LeMans station wagon with a red light bar that was wider than the roof of the vehicle, and high tail it back to Vinton. But he made it through it and became one of Vinton’s first paramedics.”
In a speech paying tribute to Philpott, Public Relations Officer Margo Karkenny noted that his “dedication and hard work are an inspiration to us all. You brought first class passion to this organization.
“Our crew lives by a simple mission: ‘A Helping Hand for our Fellow Man.’ Tom has done exactly that for the past 50 years. He’ll leave behind many friends at the crew who will forever be inspired by his dedication and passion for rescue.
“On your 50th anniversary at this station, we want you to know what a pleasure it has been to run with someone so driven and dedicated as you are. Thank you for being such an important asset to this station. Looking back on the years gone by, we couldn’t have done it without you. Though your efforts we could never repay, we have this one thing to say: you’ve made so much difference in every way.”
Several plaques and gifts were presented to Chief Philpott recognizing his years on the crew, including a model of the #21 medic unit, which Philpott was instrumental in acquiring for the Vinton First Aid Crew.
Chief Philpott will remain on the board of directors but plans to cut back on running calls. He says he may join the Reserve Group which runs one call a month to keep up his skills after taking a break for a while.
During the dinner, new officers were installed by Roanoke County Chief of Fire & Rescue, Travis Griffith and administered their oath of office. Those officers include:
- Chief Chris Sayre
- Assistant Chief Aaron Albertson
- Captain Mitch Vaughan
- 1st Lt. Brandan Arthur
- 2nd Lt. Chase Caldwell
- Nicole Vincent
- Public Relations Officer Margo Karkenny
- President/Assistant to the Treasurer Jason Peters
- Vice President Tom Philpott
- Treasurer Mitch Vaughan
- Secretary/Chaplain Sandy Sayre
- Registered Agent Sydney Myers
Chief Philpott remarked that with the installation of this particular group of officers, he knows he is leaving the crew “in good hands” with their “dedication and willingness to serve the community without any expectation of payment or recognition.”
The chief presented special awards to several First Aid Crew members:
- Haley Blair was named “Rookie of the Year.”
- Chase Caldwell was named “Outstanding Officer of the Year.”
- Nicole Vincent was recognized as “Outstanding Member of the Year.”
Lifetime Memberships were presented to volunteers with 10 years of service: Sandy Sayre, Chris Sayre, Megan Sayre, and Anna Arthur. Philpott also presented the new Chief, Chris Sayre, with his Chief’s badge.
Dinner was provided by Mission BBQ and held at the Vinton First Aid Crew station.