Dan Manz looks out of his office window at the Essex Rescue building last Thursday. He officially retired the following day, marking the end of a three-decade career with the department that included 25 years as a volunteer. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

For the first time in over 30 years, Dan Manz won’t awake to the crackle of a radio in his bedroom.

After five years as executive director of Essex Rescue, Manz retired from his post last week, bookending a three-decade career with the department that includes a quarter-century of volunteering.

Yet Manz’s influence reached well beyond the local sphere, shaping emergency medical services on both a state and national level.

He was the Vt. Department of Health’s EMS director for 25 years and previously served as the president of a national association comprised of state directors.

During that time, he helped negotiate rules nationwide around Medicare payments and is now a frequent consultant with his former employer; he’s currently on the administrative team updating national scope of practice model for the first time in 10 years.

Perhaps Manz’s proudest accomplishment, however, is co-chairing the group that created the EMS “agenda for the future,” he said, a lengthy, strategic plan that’s still guiding EMS development across the country 20 years later.

“In my career, there’s been a number of situations that I was the right guy at the right time for EMS systems,” Manz said.

That experience contributed to Essex Rescue’s recognition by the American Heart Association’s Mission Lifeline program last year for its quality care of patients having heart attacks.

It’s also helped him manage a department with a robust volunteer program, making Essex Rescue a “top-tier” service while remaining “bargain basement, dirt cheap” while other local departments move toward more paid staff, Manz said.

“The amount of money we have to get for subsidy from the community is very low compared to most other agencies in Chittenden County and most other agencies in Vermont,” he said.

Yet volunteerism is the biggest challenge facing Essex Rescue, Manz said, one the next director will need to address if the department hopes to keep its quality high and budget low.

Essex Rescue fluctuates around 45 volunteers while operating with five career staff, covering Essex, Essex Jct., Underhill, southern Westford and northern Jericho.

The town’s 2016 annual report shows the department responded to 2,070 calls — 1,420 in the Essex area — while nonprofit tax records show its communities contributed a combined $110,000 in fiscal year 2016 toward annual operating costs of over $1 million.

Much of the remainder is offset by revenues from billing for patient services — about $680,000 in FY16, the tax forms show — and more importantly, volunteer labor, Manz said.

The type of volunteers has changed since Manz’s beginnings, however, drastically altering the way the department prepares its workforce.

Volunteers in the early days were “the thought leaders, the business leaders, the up-and-comers,” Manz said. Fifteen-year veterans weren’t uncommon, and some went on to serve for decades.

“They took this work really seriously, and a lot of them came in the door and they stayed for a long time,” he said.

Now, the turnover rate is much higher, with five years often marking senior status. Manz guessed the next volunteer to walk through the door would likely serve up to three years before moving on.

That’s no knock against today’s volunteers, he said: “We get a ton of smart people through here. We’re not shy on bright folk who have great potential in their lives to go on and do more things.”

Rather, it’s a symptom of the economic realities many people face today, he said. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for EMTs and paramedics is just under $32,000, with the profession’s top paid 10 percent earning about $55,000.

The department is a common stop for those looking to enter higher-paying professions, like physicians or nurses, providing a place to gain some clinical experience.

Meanwhile, the demand on volunteers continues to grow. Training gets harder, and more education on correct medicine techniques is required, Manz said.

“We’re a time suck,” he said of EMS. “People’s lives are changing.”

Plus, as an around-the-clock emergency organization, the work itself can be extremely taxing, said Will Moran, who’s taking over as the department’s interim director.   

“We can place them into very stressful, very difficult situations at any time and then they have to be able to return to their normal daily duties of life,” he said.

Moran was hired as the department’s training officer in March after previously serving as South Burlington Rescue’s EMS coordinator, which he said carried several administrative responsibilities.

Moran seconded the importance Manz places on volunteers and said he hopes to empower staff to focus on recruitment and retention. He plans to balance that with his work helping current EMTs reach their full potential as a pre-hospital emergency care provider.

Moran said he’s considering throwing his name in for the department’s permanent director, but said for now, he’s focused on continuing Manz’s work.

Meanwhile, Manz said he’s got a busy summer ahead, highlighted by an upcoming trip to Iceland.

“This retirement stuff isn’t for the faint of heart,” he said, smiling.