The year 2015 marked the official end of a chapter for Clinton-Sampson Rescue, as the squad’s last two remaining charter Jimmy Naylor and Fletcher “Minson” Sessoms passed away and county officially closed the year out reflecting on how much the squad has meant to emergency services in Sampson County.
“The rescue squad, which dates back to 1961, has a very distinctive history in Sampson County,” county manager Ed Causey said just last month, as budget cuts for the squad loomed over Board of Commissioners’ talks. “The history and accomplishments are something for which everyone can be proud.”
In 1972, the squad built its first building, which still stands today on John Street, home to a volunteer unit that now works hand-in-hand with Sampson County EMS. Capt. Jerry Bradshaw of Clinton-Sampson Rescue talked about the rich history of the squad, as did Causey and Emergency Management director Ronald Bass.
Another large piece of that history is now gone.
Following Naylor’s passing at the end of June 2015, Sessoms, another of the originating members of the squad, passed away Dec. 28.
“The Sampson County Rescue and EMS Association mourns the loss of Mr. Fletcher “Minson” Sessoms. He was a charter member of Clinton-Sampson Rescue and EMS,” said Association president Anthony Troublefield.
Following Sessoms’ death, Troublefield said he had the opportunity to speak with a family member in the month before Sessoms passed.
“She told me how excited he was about the EMS Memorial that was erected in honor of all the volunteers that have served in EMS in Sampson County,” he stated. “I was told that was something he (wanted) to see happen. The association is humble to see this happen to honor those such as Mr. Sessoms.”
In a 2012 interview with The Sampson Independent, Sessoms did his own reflecting on the origins of Clinton-Sampson Rescue.
“We didn’t have all the training that is required of emergency workers today,” Sessoms said. “What we had was a determination to make this thing we called the rescue squad work. We saw a need and decided to make something happen. That’s really how it all got started.”
And it started with Naylor, Sessoms and several others, including Hamp Britt, Paul Norris, Stormy Norris and Bill Hondros. Joining them on the squad were firefighters Billy Reynolds and Aubrey Winston, who agreed to serve in dual roles when the rescue squad was first formed.
“I can still hear those fellas talking about getting this thing started. My recollection of specifics of those days aren’t that good, but boy do I have the memories. We worked together and for one another. Our goals were the same — helping people. Other cities and counties had (squads), so we started talking it up. Pretty soon, some of the firemen started talking about it, too, like Billy and Aubrey, and the next thing you know we were working on a charter and getting it all started.”
Back then it was a bunch of businessmen who decided a rescue squad was needed in this community.
Sessoms founded Sessoms Jewelry in 1967 and was also owner and operator of Sessoms Hog Farm of Roseboro. Naylor had dedicated himself to aviation, running an aviation business with his father, R.A. Naylor. He was also the president and owner of Clinton Flying Service, Inc., as well a a commercial pilot and flight instructor. He received the Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award requiring 50 years of aircraft maintenance.
All members came from varying backgrounds and business interests, but what bonded them together was their community.
“It was good for the community, I know that. People just somehow felt better once we formed that squad,” Sessoms said in 2012. “We were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we did just about everything you can imagine.”
There was no communication system back then, only a fire whistle to alert firefighters to a call and rescue wives to spread the word.
“If I’d get the call, then my wife (Lucille) would call the other wives and they’d then alert the husbands. If Hamp got the call, the same thing would happen,” Sessoms said. “Pretty soon, we’d all be at whatever scene we’d been called to.”
And rescue workers not only gave their time, they pulled out of their own pocket for expenses. Their first ambulance was a converted station wagon. Eventually, with help from the City of Clinton and the community, they traded the station wagon in for a real ambulance and Jaws of Life.
“The community was always very supportive. They believed in their squad and they helped us any way they could, donating a lot of stuff to help us get started and stay active. The rescue business is altogether different today. I’m not saying that’s bad, it is what it is. But back then, when there wasn’t all the requirements, when you didn’t have to worry about how often you were on call, it was just a bunch of fellas working to help their neighbor.”
Those changes and increased requirements have brought about their own issues, especially in regards to staffing. Many volunteer rescue departments have had to close their doors because of the time and resources required to stay staffed, open and in service when volunteers also work full-time jobs to support their families.
During a recent meeting with Bradshaw, Causey stated, “we spent a good time talking about the evolution of emergency medical services in Sampson County — from the early days of basic rescue operations where transports were done by others, to today’s full medical service that provides paramedic level of care for every call.”
Several departments have made forced to make difficult decisions to voluntarily cease programs as volunteers become increasingly unavailable, a situation with which Clinton‐Sampson Rescue has also been confronted.
The squad’s response to dispatched calls has dramatically decreased in the past few years to a rate of less than 1 percent of their calls — from 330 responses in 2011 to 219 in 2012 and again to 54 in 2013. It dropped even lower, to 34 in 2014, despite more than 1,000 calls.
Bradshaw said the squad knew that was going to happen as paid services came into the fold.
In the end, commissioners kept the squad’s contract in place, but at a nominal county cost, reducing the stipend from $3,600 a month to $300.
Currently on the roster is 500 years of service to this county. Bradshaw has more than 40 of those years, his service dating back to 1973. He knows the importance of the squad in shaping this community’s emergency response.
“We have been a training ground for paramedics, nurses, physician’s assistants and other employees for paid agencies who come there to train,” said Bradshaw, who has expended considerable effort in trying to recruit members that would allow the department to respond to more calls. “It’s a starting ground.”
That work continues, and Bass said Emergency Management would assist in whatever way they could in ensuring the squad stays active in the community. The rescue squad has proven invaluable over the years, he said, with many getting their start there and men like Sessoms, Naylor and others paving the way for that to happen.
“As a former volunteer myself, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the long-standing service of Clinton-Sampson Rescue and the valuable role they have played in the development of our current EMS system,” Bass stated.
“There is certainly no question of (the rescue squad’s) members’ commitment to our citizens and the role (the) organization played in the development of our emergency medical system,” Causey stated.
In 2012, Sessoms said while there had been many changes in recent years, rescue at its roots is still about helping people.
“They still help their neighbor, and that’s good, but it’s just different,” he remarked. “When we started the squad, there wasn’t anything else like it. There was a fire department, and that was it. There was a need, and Hamp and the guys, we all saw a need, and we worked to meet that need. I’m proud to say I think we met those needs and we helped a lot of people. That’s a good feeling. It’s what kept us involved and it’s what makes me feel good about our service even today.”
Featuring excerpts from Sherry Matthews’ 2012 interview with Minson Sessoms. Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.