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A Brief History of McGregor

By: Patrick and Susan (Sanders) Ahearn

As we celebrate our 50th anniversary its important to take a moment to remember our past.

We began in 1968 with a single bay in the Durham-UNH Fire station. This was generously provided by the department and UNH. Meetings were held across the street on the second floor of Pettee Hall. The first dispatch was a lone Durham Firefighter telephone calling the on-call crew that there was a run. (The tale passed down was they might call the fraternity AGR where some members lived and simply say “Meat Wagon!”). After a series of hearse-style ambulances, (the first a used one from a Newmarket funeral home), to the partial federally funded brand new 1972 Cadillac, we ended up with our first truck, a box style 1976 Chevy Wayne Lifeguard. The Corps’ second vehicle was stored in the Lee Fire Station, and later at the UNH vehicle service garage. 

The Dispatch Center started in the rear area of the old fire station near the UNH Heating Plant next to the “Battery Lounge”. In those early years the dispatcher would issue out the six day or night pagers.  Jan Kazlauskis would often type up the handwritten run reports. Later, the whole facility moved under the old fire station in the UNH Service building. Eventually, the various tasks that the dispatchers performed were handled by DAC personnel as the Center became increasingly busy. The call list was faxed over or hand delivered for several years. Within their small space the physical arrangement of the Center changed. Approximately nine years ago the town of Durham opted to transfer the communications services for Fire, Police, and DPW to Strafford County. More recently, the UNH Communications Center moved to a new home in a portion of the UNH Police building on Waterworks Rd. near the waterworks plant. UNH Fire Alarm now dispatches for UNH Police, Security, McGregor EMS, Barrington Fire and Ambulance, Lee Fire and Madbury Fire. The call list is now online. Run reports are now on the online State of NH Trauma EMS Incident System (TEMSIS).

Around 1985 UNH built Morse Hall.  With the usual shuffling of space, we moved into a portion of the renovated buildings and grounds garage near ROTC’s Zais Hall. Durham Fire moved also, across the “courtyard” from buildings and grounds.  We had space for an office, a bathroom, a kitchen, a meeting room/day room and bays for our two van style ambulances.  We terminated our rental of 22 Rosemary Lane, a private house which we had sublet to members and had a very small office in.

When the whole building became available to us, we did a number of modifications, yielding nearly 2000 square feet of space.  This space encompasses a small bunk room with space for eight, a day room, a mid-sized office with six workstations, a small kitchen, and a day room.  Meetings are mostly held in an academic classroom.

We have once again outgrown our vehicle bay space. We added a third van front/box back (Type III) ambulance in 2005. Over the next several years we added a Supervisor’s small SUV and a paramedic intercept SUV. During large, pre-scheduled events such as Homecoming, UNH Commencements, and concerts, we expand the fleet and staff to as many as six transporting ambulances with borrowed vehicles. Within the next two to three years we will likely expand our own fleet of ambulances to four followed by a fifth within the following ten years.

We have joined with the Durham Fire Department, UNH Police Department  and UNH Communications Center to plan an over 40,000 square foot facility funded jointly by UNH and the town of Durham.  This is the most promising plan since 2000 when initial discussions began. The exact method of payment by McGregor has not been finalized.  We will likely continue to pay some sort of annual rent in addition to our dispatch fees.

From very modest beginnings, we have continually updated our treatment equipment, stretchers, and communication equipment. We started with a Cardio-Beeper, then used LifePak 5s and 11s, and now have four Zoll Brand X Series monitor/defibrillators which cost about $25,000 each. These devices allow us to obtain 12 EKG tracings and transmit them directly to the hospital Emergency Department and Cardiologist on call. We also monitor the oxygen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide levels of our patients in addition to the more routine vital signs with this unit.  (And yes, we still use stethoscopes!) Our approximately 12 paramedics are trained in external cardiac pacing. All of our approximately 80 providers use our Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs).

Those of you who remember needing at least four crew people to carry and load the old “8 level” cot might be pleasantly surprised to see our state of the art stretchers.  They raise and lower under battery power and are guided into the back by a revolutionary track system.

Some things have not changed much. We still have two mobile radios per vehicle and portable radios for the standard crew of three. We are in the statewide 256 frequency channel system. We do not routinely operate on the Durham Fire frequency, but rather share a dispatch channel with Barrington, Lee, and Madbury.

Our 1968 call volume was 215. In 2016 we responded to approximately 2028 requests for service in our primary service area of Durham, Lee, Madbury, and UNH as well as mutual aid to Barrington and Nottingham (who have their own ambulances in their respective fire departments), Newmarket  and Dover Fire Departments, and occasional others. We transport about ⅔ of these patients to the same four hospitals and occasionally interact with one of the two area medical helicopter services.

As you might suspect, our annual budget has increased over time. We have been billing all the patients that we transport for over two decades now. We maintain a very liberal financial hardship program. Additionally, we receive revenue from the  educational programs that our sister organization, the McGregor Institute, presents. The Institute regularly has EMT and Advanced EMT (new version of the National Registry Intermediate program) classes. These, combined with our CPR Safe program for the various school districts in NH and public programs serve as a funnel for new providers, help improve the chance of functional survival from sudden cardiac arrest, support our core mission(s) and contribute revenue.

Our first year budget, according to the Durham Town Report:Total Revenue-$7,600 (Durham and UNH appropriation $2,000/$1,300 respectively, and $3,300 memorial donations in Doc’s name). 1968 Expenses totaled $5,200. The 2017 budget for operations, capital, and depreciation was $1,107,856 expenses, with income estimated at $1,126,927. 

Just as in 1968, we request an annual appropriation from the four communities.  This appropriation is based on the previous year’s statistics.  The appropriations help offset our costs of preparation. The communities are billed quarterly for the fees for the UNH Communication Center ( Fire Alarm),  the building lease that UNH charges, and portions of the direct cost of providing single  24/7 paramedic-in-quarters coverage. We have a number of per diem paramedic staff members, a group of other part time support staff who in some cases have response capabilities, and currently four full time positions-an Executive Director (Chris Lemelin), an Operations Manager (Harry Mueller), and two full-time paramedics.

These vital staff members manage the organization and assist the volunteer Board of Directors (the BOD is somewhat modified from the previous Executive Committee) who govern the organization. We have evolved from a model resembling a Town Meeting (one member/one vote structure) to a more modern non-profit corporate governance form. 

Yet the heart of the group is still our volunteers - approximately 80 at any one time. Our volunteers are derived from three principal groups: UNH students, former students who have remained with us upon leaving UNH, and non UNH affiliated members, i.e. town residents. Our definition of resident has changed. We now have very active members from all over the state and New England. Since our present facility has a small bunk room, nearly all on call personnel remain at the station in contrast to the previous model where members responded into the station from areas within an eight minute response radius.

Most volunteer-based EMS organizations have had to be absorbed by fire departments or switch to fully paid staff. Our continued growth is largely due to significant efforts to recruit UNH students, along with joint ventures with other UNH programs. Biomedical undergraduate students can even obtain college credit for a seminar led by one our members who is a UNH professor. See the 2018 winter edition of the UNH Magazine for a related story.

We hope this brought you somewhat up to date with what’s been happening at DAC/McGregor since you left. 

Patrick and Susan (Sanders) Ahearn for the Board and 50th anniversary committee.

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