Backus honored with Vermont Emergency Medical Services Lifetime Achievement Award

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TOWNSHEND — Dr. Robert Backus once responded to an ambulance call where he helped a drunk man out of a Volkswagen Beetle that was teetering over a bank.

When the emergency medical technicians returned to their station, Backus asked why they sent him — the least experienced member of Rescue Inc. — inside the vehicle.

"We felt if it was going over, it might as well be with you," Backus said with a smile, quoting an EMT friend that night.

Backus received a Vermont Emergency Medical Services Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday. More than 20 attendees filled up Rescue Inc.'s headquarters in West Townshend and laughed at the teetering-car story on Monday.

"I, as you understand, am more than deeply appreciative of the kindness that I was shown, for the training that I got and for the friendships you've allowed me to maintain over these years," Backus told them. "Thank you."

Backus said his medical training began with Rescue. He recalled going on a larger volume of calls from 1970 to 1972. He went to medical school in 1972 but still helped the crew when he was around.

"This guy's the country doctor," Vern Bristol, who founded Rescue in 1966, told the Reformer, pointing to Backus who was among the first 16 members of the squad. "He's the one. He's been around for so many years."

Bristol said Backus once "got us up" at 2 a.m. to give the crew a lecture on anatomy and the human heart.

Dan Batsie, EMS chief with the Vermont Department of Health, recognized Backus for his EMS involvement and support during his 40 years practicing medicine in the West River Valley. Backus is now retired but he worked at Grace Cottage Hospital.

"It's a true pleasure of mine to be here meeting all you folks, especially the fathers of Rescue Inc. and our Vermont system," Batsie said. "It's terrific."

The awards, he said, are "borne out of hard work, countless hours, time away from families, dinners, holidays and all of that."

"We appreciate it," he said. "Without it, we wouldn't be able to serve our patients the way we do."

There is no award his department takes more seriously than the one celebrating lifetime achievement, he added.

Batsie read the nomination, which says Backus' decades-long involvement has led to the improvement of EMS services "up and down the West River Valley and beyond."

"His enthusiasm for and support of EMS has been nothing short of spectacular," the nomination says, noting Backus' medical leadership, help with designing delivery systems, care and nurturing of EMTs and "hands-on care of patients at scenes in all circumstances and weather." He "has been known to jump into smashed cars to render aid, leap aboard helicopters to tend to patients, invade country inns where a diner has collapsed in cardiac arrest and through it all, as he still does, he supports, instructs, cheers up and gently pokes fun of everyone around him."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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