Andrea Downs, Field Supervisor at NDP EMS, has been working with us since 1997. The Falls Village, Connecticut resident exudes joy. Andrea attributes that joy to her career, and to the fact that her professional path has allowed her to fully enjoy family life. She and husband Tim have two adult children: Jeremy, age 28, and Lydia, age 26. They have also opened their home to AFS students for 15 years. We caught up with Andrea recently to learn more:
Andrea, what inspired you to pursue a career as a first responder?
My husband was an Officer in the Falls Village Volunteer Fire Department, and they only had 5 members to respond to ambulance calls. I was a stay-at-home mom, and he asked me if I could pitch in as an ambulance driver. I joined the volunteer group and started driving regularly. When the opportunity came along for me to become an EMT, I jumped at it.
How did you land at NDP EMS? One night, I was helping to handle a cardiac arrest call. A medic from NDP EMS was involved, and talked about career opportunities. I told him that I needed a job where I could work while my kids were sleeping - and he said that I could create the schedule I needed at NDP. So, I started in a per diem role working just two 24-hour shifts, and it has evolved as my kids have grown. It has been the best choice for me as a working mom whose first priority is always my family, and it’s been great to expand and change my hours as they have grown up and needed different things from me. I have always been able to create the setup I have needed; a perfect career for any working parent!
What is your favorite part about your job?
The patients. Every single patient has a story and a history, and I find it so interesting to get a chance to learn about them and learn from them. Many are elderly and frail, but they had a life before they became elderly; they contributed to the community, they were productive citizens, they had full lives. I love finding out what was important to them.
NDP EMS has many team members who, like you, have built their entire professional lives there. Can you comment on why you believe the company has been so successful in retaining it’s talent? NDP EMS really cares about employees, and offers us an opportunity to build a career that really works for our lives. As I shared, being a working mom I needed a certain schedule and this is a place where I have been able to make that happen. And it’s an honor to get to serve the communities where we all live; you build relationships with people and it’s very rewarding.
Andrea, for you, family life has meant more than just your children and husband and your NDP EMS family; I hear you have hosted 28 AFS students over the years! Tell me what that’s been like, and the historic connection between AFS and your work today.
We love hosting the kids - it’s great to show them our part of the world and they have come to us from countries all over the globe. We learn from them and they learn from us and it’s a great experience.
And yes, there’s an interesting tie-in to my work as a first responder. AFS (American Field Service) actually started as a volunteer ambulance service in World War I. They needed to get wounded soldiers from the field to the field hospitals - so a small group of men from Brown University went over to help, and Henry Ford donated two vehicles that they made into ambulances. Those vehicles were brought to France and they were very successful with the effort. When they went back during World War II and realized there was still a need, 2500 men and women began to serve as civilian volunteers under the US Navy transporting people from the field to the field hospitals. The founder of AFS noticed, unfortunately, that there was a great deal of prejudice in the United States against Germans, and felt that the best way to address that problem was to start an exchange program. So he brought 15 high school students from Germany to the US, and it has grown exponentially in the years since. That ambulance connection has definitely made me feel more of a kinship to the AFS program, and we love hosting these kids. We get them involved in the fire department as volunteers, because that’s just part of life in our household - and it’s been great for these kids since many of their countries don’t offer those kinds of experiences.
What would you tell someone who is considering a career as a first responder?
Mostly what we do is mitigate emergencies; that’s so much of our work. And the most important advice I can give is to remember that it’s about the patient, not about us. Service in life is always about the people we serve - whether you’re hosting an exchange student, working as a first responder, or volunteering in any capacity.