Lifetime of Service

Published 10:35 am Monday, August 8, 2016

Submitted by Susan Westfall
GC Rescue/EMS Chaplain

GATESVILLE – My family had a wonderful evening sitting around the dinner table with Dan and Barbara Lang, who regaled us with stories of our county’s fledgling emergency medical services.

Gates County Rescue & EMS Chief Stormy Butts recently presented Dan with a 50-year North Carolina Association of Rescue & EMS pin to commemorate a life of service to Gates County as an emergency medical technician (EMT). Barbara, Dan’s wife, was just as involved during those formative years. Not only was she a wife, a mother, and the nutritionist for Gates County Schools, she was one of the first two female EMTs on our Rescue Squad and a founding member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

Dan’s best friend, Durwood Evans, talked him into volunteering with EMS in 1965. Twenty-three active years later, Dan retired due to health reasons. At that time he was made a Lifetime member and still listens to our daily EMS radio traffic!

Dan said that our first members were also called EMTs. They had advanced first aid training, and their only equipment consisted of backboards with cravats, oxygen, and homemade bandages and splints. They took courses EO1-6. EO courses 1-3 were the minimum requirements. As far as Dan remembers, only he and Barbara finished all six courses, the last one being a drug recognition course taught by the Murfreesboro Police Dept. He remembered that one of the EO courses was about childbirth.

The first EMS vehicle was a hearse. It had a police interceptor engine and was faster than a cop car.

I asked him about his most memorable calls. He immediately said his very first car accident was the worst. It involved the death of a friend.

“We were having a Labor Day weekend cookout at the Squad when we saw a car go flying by the station. I recognized it because it belonged to Vernon, a very close friend of mine. A few minutes later, we got a telephone call about a head-on collision near Tarheel.”

There were a lot of funny stories, as well.

“We had a phone call (way before the days of a dispatch call center) from the prison camp (present day EOC). They needed an ambulance at White Oak. Some guy had a wreck,” Lang recalled. “I arrived and found the car wrapped around a tree. The brake pedal had actually pressed itself in on the driver’s foot, trapping him in the car. I got in the back seat, leaned over both him and the front seat. Using a hacksaw, I sawed the brake pedal off so we could get him out. The guy ended up in a full body cast, but survived the ordeal.

“Well, a few weeks later, I took this same man to Chowan Hospital for a checkup,” he continued. “We got to talking, and the guy shared that he didn’t remember much about the crash. He remembered skidding. The next thing he remembered was waking up and seeing me over him sawing away. His next remark was, ‘I was wondering if I was dead and had gone to hell’!”

One day a caller said something to the effect of “Clint Bunch, heart attack.” Then the line went dead. The two members called Chief Durwood Evans. The chief said he knew of a Quint Bunch down in Hobbsville.

“We proceeded to that home, and sure enough, it was the right one as Quint was rescued,” Lang said.

Barbara had some interesting stories herself. She and Durwood’s wife, Marie Evans, were the first two female EMTs. They had the exact same training as the men.

“Not everyone was happy about that,” Barbara said.

She and Dan responded to a lot of calls.

“Every now and then, one of our babies would wake up in the ambulance, out on a run with us,” she exclaimed.

She shared, “In 1980, Gates County had a big snow, so big that we couldn’t get the ambulances out of the building. There happened to be a phone call for a woman in labor. The members on duty couldn’t respond. The family called a wrecker. The wrecker driver went for the doctor in Gatesville. I grabbed Dan’s first aid bag, put on Dan’s huge rubber boots, and trudged through the snow about a mile up the road to Hwy 158 Business. When the doctor finally arrived at our location, I had just cut the baby’s cord.”

The Langs shared that the original Rescue Squad in the county was completely self-funded. The land for the Squad Building was donated, and they somehow managed to get their first ambulance, a hearse, from Colerain.

Additionally, Squad members had to purchase their uniforms, equipment, and even fuel for the ambulance. They used to go door-to-door asking for donations.

The Langs related times that the Squad members didn’t even have enough gas money to drive back to the station after delivering a patient to a hospital. Dan remembers a local doctor and a business owner who used to regularly help the Squad financially. Most of the time though, the Squad relied on donations from county residents or paid expenses out of their own pockets.

Barbara said that the lack of funds was the main reason the Squad members’ wives got together and formed the Ladies’ Auxiliary. They held turkey shoots, sold concessions, and anything else they could think of to fund the Squad. Their best fundraiser was hand-made Easter eggs. They made thousands of personalized eggs, dipping them in peanut butter, vanilla cream, and/or chocolate. While Barbara was a charter member of the Auxiliary, she eventually had to step down due to her family needs, her fulltime job, and her volunteer work at the Squad.

Dan & Barbara said there have been an amazing number of changes in the last 50 years. The ones that stood out the most were the transition from just telephone calls to a dispatch call center; better-equipped ambulances; and much better EMT training.

With 23 years of EMS calls, you can imagine the number of stories this couple had to offer! They played a fundamental part in the history of the county, and the current members of the Squad are forever grateful.

You can find more about the Squad’s 52-year history at the GCR&EMS website, www.gatesrescue.org.