NORTH ADAMS - When a television reporter covering Hudson Valley Community College last year commented on the graduates ranging in age from 18 to 66, Kevin Hamel turned to his wife and said, "They're talking about me."
Hint: He's not 18. Hamel was the 66-year-old, graduating from the New York college after a tough, two-year course with his paramedic certification.
"It was a long two years, but I made it to my goal," said Hamel, in a recent interview.
It seems an obvious career capper for someone who's spent more than 40 years as an emergency responder for three ambulance services, a couple fire departments and on the slopes of Jiminy Peak and Brodie Mountain. And those were on the side of his nearly 30 years with UPS driving tractor-trailer and delivery trucks.
Did we mention the Army? That was 11 years total on active duty and with the National Guard before being discharged as a sergeant.
Hamel's had a pretty busy life and he's retired at least three times. Now, he spends 40 hours a week or more working for the North Adams Ambulance Service as a paramedic and safety officer, with the rank of lieutenant.
It was that lengthy resume and dedication that prompted the ambulance service to surprise him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its annual Christmas party two weeks ago.
"You can't find anybody more dedicated than Kevin," said service Manager John Meaney. He and others wanted a way to honor and recognize the hard-working squad member, and decided on the award - which Hamel's wife, two daughters and two granddaughters were in on.
"I've done so many things, I've forgotten most of them," said Hamel of his long career.
He volunteered as a teenager with the fire department in New Ashford where he grew up. He joined the department in Williamstown when he and his wife, Sandi, moved there in 1976.
At the time, the Hopkins Ambulance Service provided emergency and transfer services in Williamstown. Hamel recalled how he and some other firefighters became interested in emergency medicine and started working at Hopkins, now Village Ambulance. He became certified as a emergency medical technician in 1971, but the training and equipment were basic and there were no paramedics or intermediates.
"You just went on the call and did what you had to do," said Hamel.
One time, they were racing to the hospital in an ambulance and doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a woman.
"We got to around where Dunkin' Donuts is and she came alive," he said. "We broke a few ribs, but the doctor said we did a good job."
There have been "incredible advancements" since then, said Hamel, not just in the training and equipment, but in the ambulances as well. The old Cadillacs used by Hopkins gave way to vans and then to the modern, high-tech ambulances used today.
When the North Adams Ambulance Service was being established, Hamel was one of the old hands from Williamstown who came over to help set up the service at the fire station. (NAAS now has its own station on River Street.)
He Skis, Too
During the winter, Hamel took to the slopes as a member of the National Ski Patrol. He got laid off his first year with UPS, so he went to work in the ski shop at Brodie Mountain in 1968.
"I knew most of the Ski Patrol and I learned basic first aid. That's how I got started," said Hamel.
Hamel patrolled the slopes at Brodie and for many years at Jiminy Peak, receiving a number of service awards from Jiminy. He became chief first-aid examiner for the patrol in 1987 and was an instructor in winter first-aid and outdoor emergency care, including for winter study courses at Williams College.
A graduate of the former Williamstown High School, he also graduated from Becker College in 1960 and attended courses at the former North Adams State College. He's been a forest warden and a safety officer for the Williamstown Fire Department.
He retired from UPS in 1995 and from the Fire Department in 1996. And while he still loves to ski, he retired from the Ski Patrol two years ago after 38 years.
He's channeled all his energy into the North Adams Ambulance Service, which he joined in 1999. Already an EMT-intermediate, Hamel decided it was time to become a paramedic.
"I had an opportunity to do it and I proceeded to do it," he said, adding that his wife of 45 years had, in a sense, become a paramedic, too, because of the sacrifices she had made so he could reach his goal.
Hamel's done with retiring, at least for now.
"I enjoy it," he said. "I think it's the satisfaction that you get out of helping people.
"It's a hard job. There's a lot of things you see that ordinary people don't, but you've helped someone or made someone better. ... You go out and do your job the best you can."
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