Back when Brown County had no paid emergency medical technicians, it had Bob Roudebush.
Around 1972, he and fellow volunteer firefighters became EMTs in order to serve on the county’s first ambulance service.
He drove the ambulance everywhere, parking it outside his children’s baseball games and birthday parties.
Throughout his 44 years as an EMT and paramedic, if he and his partners saw empty cupboards at a patient’s home, they would head to town, buy groceries, and go back to fill the shelves.
“That was just giving back,” Roudebush said, laughing it off.
But how is it giving “back” when all he does is give?
“That was the idea, was to give everything you could give,” Roudebush said.
“We didn’t need it. We were healthy. We had food. And so you give it back to the people that don’t.
“That’s the way it should be,” Roudebush said. “If you’re able to do what you like to do, and make a living out of it, then — why not give it back?”
With the times
In the early 1970s, a new state law required EMTs in the backs of ambulances, Roudebush said.Before that, the only transport for the sick or injured in the county was in the back of Bond Funeral Home’s station wagon, said Margo Ayers. She has worked with Roudebush for 16 years, 14 of them as his partner.“That was your hearse and your ambulance,” Ayers said. “That’s all we had, honey. That’s all Brown County had.”
Brown County’s first real ambulance was a hearse converted to an ambulance, which an Indianapolis fire department donated, Roudebush said. He and other members of the Trevlac Volunteer Fire Department — which would later become Jackson Township VFD — earned their EMT certifications and saddled up.
Later in the 1970s, volunteers used a van ambulance bought from another Indianapolis fire department for $100, Roudebush said.
It wasn’t until Athens Ambulance took over the county ambulances around 1980 that working as an EMT in Brown County became a paid job, said Mark Wayt, who worked with Roudebush.
Before that, the most they received for a run was $10.
After Athens took over, Jan Carney became Roudebush’s partner, and the two worked together for 18 years.
They covered the entire north end of the county from their homes. When a call came in, Roudebush would pick up Carney with the ambulance and head to the scene.
Even when Roudebush received a paycheck, he did more than he was paid for.
Before the county’s six volunteer fire departments had equipment for getting people out of crashed cars, the only set of extrication equipment was on Squad One — the vehicle of the all-volunteer EMT Association
The equipment was paid for with grant money scrounged up in the 1970s, Wayt said.
Steve Gore, the former chief at Brown County (Nashville) VFD, remembers how often he would see Wayt and Roudebush at the ambulance base, working on the vehicle.
That drive to improve is part of what makes Roudebush a leader, Gore said.
“He’s one of those people, if you cared about what you were doing, you’d go, ‘Hey, I should be doing it like Bob does,’” Gore said.
How Bob does it
When Roudebush had a heart attack at home, Wayt was on call. It was snowy and icy, and on the way to get Roudebush, Wayt’s ambulance wound up on its side.So, Roudebush’s wife Libby — who had been a volunteer EMT and Roudebush’s first partner — drove him to the Nashville ambulance base.Legend has it that Roudebush stopped on the way to help the crew at the wreck.
But, Libby was driving. “I wanted to stop, but my wife wouldn’t let me. She kept going,” he said.
At the base, Roudebush refused to take a paramedic unit from Columbus, sending them on to the accident scene. He waited for the next one to take him to the hospital.
In the late 1990s, Roudebush was going through chemotherapy, and would come into work with his chemo pack on, Ayers said.
Around that time, Ayers and Roudebush found themselves in Brown County State Park, hiking seven miles to a patient.
Part way in, Ayers became concerned about Roudebush and ordered him to sit down and stay put until she came back with the patient.
“And then we go back to get Bob. And guess who didn’t listen?” she said.
The question behind every action he took is the same: How far would you want someone to go for your family?
Even when he got his paramedic certification around a decade ago, it had nothing to do with pay.
“It was something that was needed by the county,” Roudebush said.
In the family
About a third of EMTs’ and paramedics’ lives are spent eating and sleeping at the ambulance base and becoming as close as any family, said Toby McIntyre, who has worked with Roudebush for about 10 years.Roudebush has been at the heart of that family ever since there has been an ambulance in Brown County, Ayers said.He still has the knowledge, the kind that can’t be taught, she said.
Once, he improvised splints out of branches on a scene in Yellowwood State Forest.
Things like that can cause a bit of a stir once the patient makes it to a hospital in Bloomington or Columbus, Ayers said. Roudebush would simply explain that they made do with what they had.
“Bob knew what worked, and you did not question the man,” Ayers said.
“He would come up with whatever it took to get it done.”
Roudebush also knew “the book” way of doing things as well as anyone, McIntyre said.
But while the book works fine in a controlled setting, there are some thing you can only learn by doing, Roudebush said.
It’s not just on medical advice that his fellow emergency responders trust him, McIntyre said. It didn’t matter if it was EMS-related or personal, Ayers said. Bob is someone who can be trusted to tell people exactly how it is.
At 73 years old, Roudebush is not sure how he will fill his time since retiring as a paramedic at the end of January.He is still the president of the EMT Association. After so many years in emergency medical services, he expects he may find some way to keep volunteering and helping his community.“I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’ve got to figure out something to do,” he said. “I’m not used to settin’ around, doin’ nothin’.”
Everyone seems to mention Roudebush’s driving, particularly how hard and fast he drives.
Why? Like everything else he does, it’s because of the patients.
“I always thought, the quicker you can get there, the quicker you can start usin’ your skills to help whoever needs help,” he said.
In 1978, much of the Midwest was paralyzed by a blizzard.
While others were huddled in their houses waiting for it to pass, Roudebush was driving a child from Helmsburg to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
The snow banks were taller than the ambulance in places. The highway lane they drove was barely wide enough to pass without the side mirrors catching the snow banks, Roudebush said.
During another winter storm, he and partner Margo Ayers came over a hill and into ice just as they reached a turn.
The ambulance slid out and headed toward trees. Ayers remembers them being closer than Roudebush does.
“I kept saying, ‘Trees, Bob, trees! Bob, trees!” Ayers said.
“I got this,” was his only response.
“It slid off the edge of the road, and I accelerated real hard, and we come right back up on the road, and up and over the next hill,” Roudebush said.
Toby McIntyre was in the ambulance that followed. He said from the look of the tire tracks, the whole ambulance was off the road and into a field before Roudebush regained control and got it back on the road.
But Roudebush never showed any sign that it shook him, Ayers said.
“You haven’t got time for that,” Roudebush said. “You do that after the run’s over.”
Roudebush responds to a stranger’s call for help the way he would if they were his own family, Ayers said. And his way of seeing things rubs off on the other medical personnel.
Ayers recalled the time she was driving to a jet ski accident. All she could think of was that there were children drowning.
Taking one corner sharp, the back tires skidded around behind them.
Roudebush turned to her and said, “You just graduated the Bob Roudebush School of Driving.”