Hal Thompson was 21 in 1982 when he left his hometown of Albion in western New York near Lake Erie for the warm environs of Orlando. He eventually moved to Knoxville and fell in love with the city, East Tennessee and the Great Smoky Mountains.
That is a familiar refrain. Once people get here, many stay. Albion is a memory.
The one constant during these 37 years “down South” is his job – as a paramedic, riding and caring for patients in ambulances for Rural Metro and now AMR. He spent 14 years in Orlando and has been here for 23 years. He is, easily, No. 1 in seniority at AMR here among its 260 full- and part-time ambulance personnel.
Hal is 58 and grandfather to three. He’s planning to work until he’s 65. He’s a strapping 6-2, works out at a gym three times a week and has a personal trainer. That tracks with his answer to a question about the most important aspect of his job. “Taking care of myself,” he says. “To do what we do we have to be physically and mentally alert and ready every day. It’s both mental and physical stress and we work long shifts (12 hours) and eat a lot of fast food.”
On his days off you may bump into him on a hiking trail. He loves hiking and backpacking. His goal is to hike all of the 150 trails in the Smokies that traverse 850 miles. He’s hiked 2/3 of the trails so far.
His other stress reliever is watching old TV comedy sit-com re-runs. Among his favorites are All in the Family, Cheers, The Jeffersons, Taxi, Night Court, M*A*S*H*, Frasier, Alice, and The Golden Girls. “Life is way too short not to laugh,” Hal says.
He also enjoys the old I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners shows.
Consider what he’s been doing for 37 years, working from an ambulance …. the number of emergency calls, all the times of getting in and out of the ambulances, the number of people he’s helped and those he’s seen who didn’t survive a car accident or a shooting, suicides, or heart attacks or strokes, the number of times he’s loaded and unloaded patients on those stretchers, the number of IV’s he started and all of those blood pressure readings …. and it goes on and on.
But the man loves what he does.
“A lot of people wonder if they make a difference in their lives,” he says. “I know that in my life and in this job I make a difference in many lives day in and day out.”
Ken Loftis, AMR’s operations manager and Hal’s supervisor, says it’s a young person’s job and Hal’s 58. “The work he does is hard on your knees and your back and that stretcher can be really heavy with a patient on it,” Loftis says. “Plus, Hal’s tall and he can’t stand upright in the back of the ambulance so he’s always bending over a lot. You’ve got to be in good shape physically to do this work. It’s not easy. You need to be alert and ready to handle anything. And sometimes there’s even hiking to remote areas to help someone, like at Ijams (Nature Center) and around a quarry.”
Loftis adds: “If I didn’t know his name I might not know who he was here. He just does his job day in and day out. He offers great care and gets his work done. And we’ve never had any complaints about his work.”
Of the thousands of calls he’s handled through the years, two stand out.
- “When I was in Orlando we responded to a shooting and found a man and his 12-year-old grandson murdered, lying side by the side in the house. The boy was perfectly disemboweled and they think it was part of a drug-related or gang murder. It’s unsolved to this day. You don’t forget seeing things like that.”
- “Several years ago in Knoxville there was a shooting at a Hooters. Two people were shot through a window by a homeless guy. One was the manager. We were the second ambulance there so we took care of the man. He had lost a lot of blood and he was pale and real sweaty. It took me 30 seconds to realize that he was a good friend of mine. That was tough. We took him to UT and he survived.”
His interest in this profession took root when he was 19 in Albion. He lived in a mostly rural area and there was a car wreck close to his house. “I ran down there to see if I could help and it took the ambulance a while to get there and I wish I could have done more,” he recalls. “That got me interested. The ambulance company was looking for volunteers so I signed up and got my EMS there. And here I am today.”
He left New York for two reasons: a job/career and the weather.
A co-worker describes Hal with these words: “Very unassuming, gentle with everyone, a quiet guy and modest.”
“Hal has been diligent and worked tireless for the EMS profession,” says Chris McLain, AMR’s clinical manager. “I could see Hal working until the day the good Lord above says, ‘No Longer My Son. You have done your service.’”