GMVRS Member Profiles for National EMS Week – Gary & Judy
“I still get a rush when I see and hear an ambulance or an engine responding to a call,” says Gary Gallahan, Vice President of the GMVRS Auxiliary and At large GMVRS Board of Director Member. Like many of the volunteers, especially the “old timers”, running EMS calls gets into their blood. It’s like a “calling” that is confirmed each time the tones drop and the dispatcher’s voice is heard by those in Fire and EMS.
In Gary’s case, that “calling” started in the early 1970s, when living in Falls Church with his new wife, Judy (who is the Auxiliary’s current Secretary), when they observed firefighters attack a fully involved apartment fire nearby. Both were working in entry-level positions with the CIA at the time. However, before Gary acted on his urge to sign up with the local volunteer fire company, the Gallahans’ moved to Manassas. It didn’t take long before Gary paid a visit to the Manassas Volunteer Fire Company, and was told by someone there, who after observing his long hair said that there was no one who could talk to him, but that “he should check out the Rescue Station down the street”.
Gary joined the then Manassas Volunteer Rescue Squad (later to be renamed the Greater Manassas Volunteer Rescue Squad) in 1973 as a trial member. He completed the required EMS training, which was the American Red Cross Advanced First Aid class and CPR, to become an EMS provider at the time. As with whatever he takes on, Gary, was “in full tilt”, soon becoming an EMT, and a few years later a Cardiac Tech (precursor to today’s medics). To become a basic EMS provider now, members must become a certified EMT-B, complete the American Heart Assn. CPR class, take a series of 4 FEMA courses, and successfully complete a multi-step intern program to learn local medical directives and protocols. It takes about a year to do so.
Judy joined the Auxiliary very soon after Gary became a Squad member; “I figured if I ever wanted to see my husband, I had better join too”, she explained. That was over 48 years ago.
Gary recalled that until sleeping quarters were added to Rescue Station 1 in the early 1980s, the volunteers responded from home, being dispatched by listening to self-purchased scanners and later by Squad-issued pagers. All the EMS vehicles and equipment were purchased or homemade using funds raised by the Squad and their Auxiliary, including a Squad-run bingo operation at the Station. Gary said the Squad had great support from the community and local businesses, who often purchased or donated needed equipment. For example, Gary explained that Dudley Martin Chevrolet would donate a new passenger van off the lot to be “customized” by skilled volunteers like John Murphy, who converted the van into an ambulance. The homemade modular benches and fittings would be “recycled” in the following years when newer vans were placed in service. Judy recalls the Auxiliary members making cravats (large cloth triangular bandages used for splinting) to support the Squad several times a year; “We would buy the material, cut them up into large triangles and roll them.” They would also organize “fun days” for the community, where a carnival would be hired and they would sell food to the guests. Except for loans taken for the Station additions, nothing was purchased on credit.
At various times between 1973 and 1996, Gary held operational positions of Lieutenant and Chief, as well as Treasurer and Squad President. In 1996, Gary left the Squad to become a volunteer at nearby Stonewall Jackson VFD, where he spent another 13 years as a volunteer Cardiac Tech, holding positions of Lieutenant and EMS Captain. He “retired” (temporarily) in 2009, after developing some medical issues. During his EMS “career”, Gary and Judy saw their two daughters grow up to join the GMVRS Junior Squad, become EMTs, and run calls until both went on to college. Even Judy completed the EMT course twice over the years, but never ran calls. Gary retired from the CIA as an Analyst in 2005, and Judy, who pursued an administrative career in the private sector, retired in 2010.
Gary’s retirement lasted only until 2015, when he was drawn back to the GMVRS to join Judy on the Auxiliary as the Squad prepared for its 50th Anniversary celebration the following year. Both he and Judy served on the 50th Committee, and have served ever since in various officer positions on the Auxiliary. They are a team, and both serve as points of contact and oversee the use of Hutton Hall, a large activities room with an adjacent kitchen that was once the original Rescue Station. The Auxiliary hosts many functions for both public service (e.g. blood drives) and private functions (e.g. wedding receptions) in the Hutton Hall, which is named after one of the Squad’s Charter members, John S. Hutton Jr., who passed in 2017.
Gary had many stories to tell about his Squad experiences running calls, some quite hysterical, with patients’ names like “High Test” and “John Henry”, and then there was the time when he and his partner found themselves trapped in the Prince William Adult Detention Center on a call when a jail break occurred.
However, when asked to recall his most impactful call, Gary paused only for a moment, as the memory of a car accident that occurred in the mid-1970s near the Station at Center Street and Lee Avenue, came to mind. As tears welled up in his eyes, Gary shared that he was the lead provider on the call. The accident involved two vehicles, including a young family where their 2-year-old boy, who was inadequately restrained, impacted his head on the windshield and went into cardiac arrest. The crew performed CPR and was able to resuscitate the child, transporting him first to Prince William Hospital and then to Children’s Hospital in D.C. As with nearly all EMS calls, the providers seldom hear “the rest of the story” about their patients. This case would be different. About two weeks later, there was a knock on the Station’s door – it was the family from the car accident along with their son who had survived. They came to thank the crew who saved their boy’s life. According to Gary, they had few possessions. “They were poor, but wanted to do something for the Squad and gave a $5 donation. That was all they had.”
Calls like the one Gary shared remain with EMS providers for a lifetime. Some have happy endings, others don’t, but all remain just a question or other triggering event away from rushing back to the surface. Collectively, they give testimony to willingness and dedication of EMS providers, both volunteer and career, to care for and serve others in their time of need.
As these few paragraphs attempt to convey, the GMVRS has been and continues to be a big part of Gary and Judy’s lives, much to the Squad’s and community’s benefit.