Paramedic retires after 35 years of service

Lindsay Robins
Staff Writer

A paramedic is defined as a person trained to give emergency medical care to people who are seriously ill with the aim of stabilizing them before they are taken to the hospital. Thankfully for the last thirty years, Catawba County has had a paramedic who embodies that definition while also honoring what it means to serve their community. 

Henry Helton took his first EMT class in 1983 in South Alabama and started his career at a local service in Mobile. A year and a half later, Helton moved to North Carolina with his family. He started the paramedic program at Catawba Valley Community College and graduated in 1987. After graduation, Helton started working part-time for Catawba County. He was hired full-time in 1991 and has been with them until his retirement in September of this year. 

During his career, Helton worked as a Crew Chief, Field Training Officer, and has been active with many EMS committees. For the last fifteen years, he has been teaching at CVCC, providing guidance to new paramedics in EMT and paramedic curriculum classes. Helton also spent time working with the Newton-Conover Rescue Squad, starting in 1985 as a volunteer and worked his way up to Cheif for the last twelve years the organization was in operation. 

"The EMS part of it is more of the medical aspect, taking care of patients, and the rescue squad was more of the technical aspect," Helton explained. "Working both covered the whole gamut of accessing patients, taking care of patients, and transporting patients. I was doing both and it was like having two full-time jobs but I liked it."

Helton's main responsibility in his career has been to provide life-saving care to the community. To fulfill this responsibility, Helton worked shifts in the field answering emergency calls. He completed hours of continuing education each month to stay up to date with new techniques and changing protocols.

"It's not really a repetitive job," said Helton. "Every call is something different. It's a continually revolving atmosphere and I just enjoy doing it. I enjoy being able to go out and take care of somebody with whatever their emergency is and hopefully make things better for all the people involved, the people we get called for, their family and friends. It was stimulating because it wasn't the same thing over and over again."

 As a Field Training Officer, Helton worked with new employees, reinforcing their education and training with real-world applications. Helton also served as the introduction into the EMS family, welcoming new employees to the concept of taking care of each other and working together as a unit. While he "couldn't begin to count" how many people he has worked with over the years, Helton described all of his coworkers as knowledgeable, fun, and dependable. 

"For anybody that thinks this is what they want to do, I think they ought to get in touch with their county EMS administration," Helton shared as advice for those interested in pursuing emergency services. "Try to do some ride time and observe to make sure they know what they're getting into. At times, it's fast-paced, sometimes it's incredibly physical and emotional, and sometimes it can be really dirty and nasty. Before they take the plunge to go to class to do this, they should go out and take a look. Make sure this is really what they want to do. Spend a day or two on the job, on an ambulance." 

In retirement, Helton will continue to teach at CVCC and possibly a few more schools. He plans to continue working part-time for EMS after enjoying his retirement for a little bit. Helton has also been training in massage therapy and will be pursuing more time in that field. While Helton fondly remembers his career, there are moments that have resonated with him. 

"Over the course of my career, in two different states and in five counties in North Carolina, I have delivered eight babies. I wanted an even ten by the time I retired but I couldn't get anyone to cooperate with me for the last two. Luckily, I didn't have any problems with any of the deliveries. It's the other end of the spectrum from all of the death and destruction. It's a brand new life, everyone is healthy and happy, and that sticks with you."

Helton's last day as a full-time paramedic was September 30th and his career was celebrated with a retirement party in October. When asked if he would do it all again, Helton simply replied, "Oh, yeah." 

Even though Helton won't be in uniform as often in his retirement, he will continue to be a hero to the community.