Tracey Jones takes the wheel as new Tisbury ambulance coordinator

Paramedic Tracey Jones, Tisbury's new ambulance coordinator as of January 2, took time between calls last week to get some paperwork done. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

With her soft voice, warm smile, and calm presence, Tisbury paramedic Tracey Jones embodies the traits a sick or injured person needs in an emergency responder. She also comes highly recommended as a capable administrator by her boss, Tisbury Ambulance Service (TAS) coordinator Jeff Pratt, which led to her appointment as his successor. Mr. Pratt will retire on January 2.

Last week, Ms. Jones and Mr. Pratt spoke with The Times at their offices in Tisbury’s new emergency services facility, as they collaborated on the final details of the department’s fiscal year 2014 draft budget, due on January 9. The department’s FY13 budget was $333,142. From their comments, it sounds as though their co-workers on the ambulance squad can look forward to a seamless transition and a work environment that remains familiar.

Ms. Jones shares a camaraderie with Mr. Pratt that dates back to 2005, when she took a basic emergency medical technician (EMT) class that he taught. She joined the TAS in 2006, and completed a two-year training program to become an EMT-paramedic in 2010. Ms. Jones was promoted as a full-time staff paramedic for the town in 2011, in addition to Chris Cini.

Asked why she decided to apply for the ambulance coordinator position, Ms. Jones said her commitment to Tisbury as a full-time town employee is a primary reason.

Also, she added with a smile, “I didn’t want to see anybody else come in and change it. That was really my intention. I know how the service works; I know all of the people; I’m very familiar with the entire squad.”

Ms. Jones said it would be a difficult job for someone new to step into. “We have a lot of individual personalities, that you have to find a different way to deal with and interact with each of those personalities, and starting from scratch for somebody would have been very hard,” she said. “I know it was when I first started.”

For the past two years, she already has had a head start on mastering one of the department’s most challenging tasks, scheduling 29 part-time squad members who have a variety of job and family commitments. She said it’s very much like working a jigsaw puzzle.

“It’s pretty straightforward, as long as you treat everyone the same and are fair,” Ms. Jones said. “Most of the squad is volunteer and they get stipends. I’m very aware there are two things you shouldn’t mess with, somebody’s schedule and somebody’s payroll.”

Top candidate

The Tisbury selectmen voted on November 13 to offer Ms. Jones the ambulance coordinator job at the recommendation of a search committee created last fall. Mr. Pratt, who has served as the town’s ambulance coordinator since 1998, gave the Tisbury selectmen a heads-up last August that he planned to retire sometime between October and January 2013, to give them time to choose his successor and himself time to help train the new person.

At Mr. Pratt’s recommendation, the Tisbury selectmen approved the search committee’s formation, which reviewed a pool of applicants to find his replacement. In addition to Mr. Pratt, the committee included Police Chief Dan Hanavan, Fire Chief John Schilling, former town administrator John Bugbee, and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency medicine director Dr. Jeffrey Zack.

Ms. Jones emerged as the top candidate, and she accepted the position effective January 2 at an annual salary of $59,425, which is level M-5, step 1 on the town’s wage scale for managerial and professional employees.

When asked about her goals for the ambulance service, Ms. Jones said she does not plan to make any drastic changes. “Obviously we have to keep up with times, and the state requirements and everything else,” she said. “The state dictates those to us; we don’t have a say in that. Our goals also are based on community need. That’s pretty much where we address most of our time.”

Becoming an EMT

Ms. Jones, age 44, grew up in a village in northern England between Liverpool and Manchester. She said she developed an interest in becoming an EMT because of a friend and former roommate on Martha’s Vineyard who was in the profession. “I was always intrigued by what she did, how she could get up in middle of night and go to help someone in need,” she said.

Ms. Jones came to visit her friend on Martha’s Vineyard in 1990 and ended up staying on the Island for five years. She moved to Los Angeles for four years to attend UCLA to study graphic design. When she graduated, she returned to Martha’s Vineyard to room with her friend. She worked in computer graphics.

When her friend died several years later, Ms. Jones said Tisbury EMT Melinda Loberg responded to the call and their meeting rekindled her interest in the profession. Ms. Jones became guardian to her friend’s 14-year-old daughter. After she graduated from high school four years later, Ms. Jones decided to become an EMT.

Ms. Jones said Mr. Pratt was a wonderful teacher and provides his students with an excellent foundation.

People skills

“The EMT basic class teaches you how to pass the exam and then it really comes down to your peers and mentors to teach you the compassion side, the people skills, because it’s a people position,” she said. “I’m constantly learning. Patients don’t read the book. I don’t think I’ve ever met a classic ‘textbook’ patient. You have to think outside the box. We have guidelines, but sometimes you have to punt, which is one of the reasons we go out there as teams.”

As an example, Ms. Jones said she gained an invaluable lesson one night as a new EMT from one of her co-workers. They responded to a call at 2 am from a woman who was from Argentina and didn’t speak English. She was in a lot of pain but couldn’t tell them what was wrong.

“The other EMT started singing, ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ to her on the way to the hospital, and she was so much happier when we got there than when we picked her up,” Ms. Jones recalled. “They don’t teach you that in the book.”

Not surprisingly, when asked what she likes best about her job, Ms. Jones said it is the people she works with and that every day on the job is different.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it’s not always major disasters either,” she said. “Often it’s something minor. However, what might not seem like an emergency to me is emergency enough to the patient to make a 911 call. So every EMT has that mindset, that this is not my emergency, but it is theirs. What can I do to ease this situation?”

Working on a small Island with a tight-knit community where so many people know one another has its good and bad points, Ms. Jones said. Every emergency call has the potential to be from someone she or a squad member knows. “But at the same time, it may be a call from an elderly person that’s seen you and talked to you in the grocery store, and it’s comforting for them when you arrive and they know you,” she said.

Mr. Pratt remains a presence

Mr. Pratt plans to continue to be a familiar face on the ambulance squad, on which he has served for 22 years, and he will remain as a member of the TAS. He has also been a Tisbury Fire Department volunteer since 1986.

Mr. Pratt said his decision to retire is one that he and his family have been thinking about for some time.

“I have other projects and endeavors I’m committed to and dedicated to, and it’s getting difficult to balance everything,” he said. “I love teaching. I am the president of the Martha’s Vineyard Association of EMTs and teach an EMT class every January. It’s a four-month program. I’m very committed to that.”

Mr. Pratt also recently received an invitation and was appointed to the American Heart Association regional faculty, which requires him to travel as part of a team that monitors cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other classes taught by the association throughout Southern New England. Although he has plenty of vacation time, Mr. Pratt said he has been unable to get away very often, because of the demands of his job.