43 Years Down and a Lifetime to Go: Newly Retired Paramedic Reflects on his Decades of Service and Future in EMS Education

March 20, 2023

It may be hard for some to imagine working the same job, at the same agency, in the same city for over 40 years, but you know what they say, if you do something you love, you never truly work a day in your life. Just ask recently retired 43-year paramedic Tom Perreault of Quincy, Massachusetts. He was first certified by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians in 1980 and, as of February 2023, has been consecutively registered for all 43 years of his career! 

Perreault became interested in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) as many young people did in the late 1970s by watching the show, “Emergency!” on NBC every week. He also happened to have a brother who was already working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). “My older brother was an EMT and let me shadow him for a ride along,” Perreault remembers. “I really enjoyed it, and so I went with it.” 

When Perreault passed the certification exam in 1980, the National Registry was relatively young; having been around for ten years, this was the standard for EMS in the United States. “There was no state-level certification or guidelines; the Registry was it,” he said. “As time passed, and individual states began to develop their programs and standards for emergency medical care, the National Registry remained the stable foundation from which those standards were built. The Registry is the glue that holds us together, no matter where you are.” 

Maintaining National Certification throughout his career was an easy decision for Perreault. “I knew early on that I wanted to stay in the business and have a career as a paramedic. I worked hard to pass that test, and I’m proud of that accomplishment,” Perreault said. “I wasn’t about to give that up, the recognition, the affiliation; there was no way I would give that up.” 

“It reminds me that I am a part of something greater than myself, greater than the city I spent my career serving. I am part of a national network of people who chose to spend their life dedicated to saving lives,” he added. “We have human lives in our hands; a lot of people don’t know what that feels like.” 

As Perreault moves into the next chapter of his life, which includes EMS education, he has some advice for younger EMS providers. “Don’t get disappointed,” he said. “Young providers sometimes come in expecting nonstop action, almost like a tv show, but much of your day is spent doing basic patient transfers. In the private sector, you must spend some time on these transfers in preparation for those heart-racing critical calls. It helps phase out people who aren’t serious-- maybe this job isn’t what they thought it was-- which is okay; we’re not for everyone.”  

“At the end of the day, no one goes into EMS to get rich; we chose this field because we wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” Perreault said. “Being connected through the National Registry reminds me why I do what I do. We don’t always get positive feedback, recognition, or thanks and praise, but I sleep well at night. I’m not rich, but I am very satisfied with my life.” 

Perreault has had his fair share of challenging and memorable calls, too many to count, but he will never forget the early years of his career when the HIV pandemic swept the nation. “No one knew what it was or how you got it; people were so afraid, we didn’t know what we were up against either, but we had a job to do,” he recalls. “Patient safety was the top priority, even above our own, we went in there and treated all our patients with respect instead of fear, and to this day, I believe that has made a huge difference.” 

The last few years of his career were spent in the chase car, a first responder vehicle that goes to every 911 call in Quincy, MA. “In this field, you see so much; no two days are the same,” he said. “Being in the chase car and responding to all types of calls opened my eyes to what patients’ families are going through. We are so focused on the patients we sometimes forget about the families, and this gave me the opportunity to console and help them in a way that I never thought possible. It stuck with me.” 

Perreault may be retiring from the field, but he’s not done with EMS, not by a long shot. He plans to move into an educational role as an instructor. The EMS community will significantly benefit from his experience, knowledge, skills, and unwavering passion for saving lives. As he passes the torch to younger generations of first responders, we can all sleep well at night knowing they are in his capable hands.  

Read More Articles In This Series
Bill Wood - "50 Consecutive Years Of National Registry Certification"
Justin Solobay - "A Night To Remember"
Jessica Cervantez - "Be A Rock In The Moment People Are Falling Apart"
James Avery - "An Unexpected Destiny - How One EMS Provider Discovered Sometimes Fate Has Other Plans"
Tom Perreault - "43 Years Down and a Lifetime to Go"

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Shane Cartmill
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