A consistent thread has remained with South Branch Emergency Services (SBES) EMT instructor Alison Ambrose throughout her longtime EMS career: Family.
When she was 6 years old, Alison’s parents joined New Providence Rescue Squad and were among the first EMTs and EMT instructors in the state of New Jersey back in the 1970s.
“I grew up with my parents answering squad calls,” Alison, 61, recalls. “I think it was in my teens that I realized I wanted to volunteer. I watched my parents do it for years, and I ended up joining the same squad they were on.”
She joined New Providence Rescue Squad as a volunteer EMT at the age of 18 with — you guessed it — her parents serving as her EMT instructors. Alison later became an EMT instructor herself and her own daughter, Alex, was one of her students.
“It’s absolutely a family thing,” Alison says.
Alison currently works alongside SBES Training Center Coordinator Captain Michelle Gardner. The duo have worked together since they helped start up South Branch’s EMT training program nearly six years ago. Alison remains an active EMT and CPR instructor.
After retiring as an instructor to raise her children — Alex, Mike, and Maggie — she eventually rejoined New Providence in 2002. Her then 16-year-old son Mike came to her and said, “Mom, I want to become an EMT.”
“And I said, ‘You know, the girls are old enough now… I'll go back with you!’”
Alison enrolled in a training program with classes from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — which enabled her to drop her kids off at school and pick them up. While she could have simply renewed her EMT certification by taking weekend classes, Alison says so many things had changed that she decided to re-take the entire course.
In 2007, she joined Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad as an EMT instructor – one of the SBES founding organizations. It was there that she met her now husband, Tony.
“People think it’s just so cute,” Alison says, “When people find out that Tony is my husband on a squad call – they all think it’s really funny.”
She and Tony currently reside in Hunterdon County.
Her son Mike was her partner for five years until he was hired as a police officer in Denville. Mike remains an active EMT and serves as a volunteer firefighter. At one point, Alison says she, her mother, and her son Mike were all on a squad call together at the same time.
“No one knew until my son addressed my mother as ‘Grandma’ and me as ‘Mom’ on the squad call,” she said chuckling.
While she doesn’t remember exactly the call they were responding to, Alison says she’s responded to many challenging calls over the years — from pediatric cardiac arrest to suicides.
“You never know what the one call will be that is going to trigger emotion,” she said.
For Alison, that call came when an elderly man hit a tree near their squad building and was killed shortly after her father passed away. “We heard the crash, and I looked over and found the car in the tree right by the building,” Alison said. “But when I walked up and saw an elderly man there, all I saw was my dad.”
Later that evening when she got home, Alison recalls having a breakdown which prompted a phone call to her son Mike. The two spent nearly 45 minutes on the phone doing a critical incident stress debriefing.
“Mike talked me through it and we moved on, but it’s something as simple as an older gentleman dying in front of me,” she said. “That one was the one that hit me very hard.”
When training future EMTs, Alison continues to tell her students about this incident because she wants to show them “that you have to be human… and even we veterans break down after all these years."
It’s very rewarding for Alison to know that she provides training that will equip the next generation of EMTs with the skills they need to save lives. She especially enjoys keeping up with her former students by staying connected with them on social media. Some of her students go on to become firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, nurses, doctors, or officers where they work.
“It’s very cool to see something like that,” she said.
Being a member of SBES is like being a member of a family, Alison says. If there is a problem, SBES members talk to each other about it.
“We fight like family, we make up like family,” she said. “I really like working there. It’s a strong organization. We just recently hired someone and he looked at me and said, ‘I love coming here because everyone is so happy.’”
Alison met her friend, Michelle, while working at SBES and together, with their spouses, they enjoy going on camping trips. SBES is a great place for anyone who wants to get involved with responding to calls for medicals, traumas, psychological issues, behavioral, and more.
“You’ll get so much experience and meet so many nice people,” Alison said.
South Branch Emergency Services is looking for volunteers like you! No experience is necessary, and training and gear are provided for members. Visitsbes365.org to sign up or learn more.