When Chief Lisa Camp was a young girl, her parents kept busy at the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department. Her father, Kenneth Camp, was the fire chief and former mayor. Her mother, Letha Camp, helped start the city’s EMS.
“My mom just passed away in 2020,” Camp said. “Her story was, ‘Lisa didn’t make the drill team in high school, so I put her in an EMT class at the fire station to restructure her into not being sad.’ She created a 44-year career that I just totally engulf myself in.”
Today, Camp is the EMS chief at Friendswood VFD EMS and also a full-time paid chief of La Porte EMS. The Friendswood job is non-paid, part of Friendswood’s hybrid volunteer-paid force of medics.
Friendswood EMS has a paid staff of nine full-time employees and 23 part-time employees.
“Then I have like 30 volunteers,” Camp said.
Friendswood began in the 1970s as an all-volunteer EMS agency in a bedroom community with no industry. As the community grew and calls increased, the EMS agency had to add part-time staff because the volunteers would leave in the daytime to go to work. Volunteers still filled in shifts to make it work.
Women making history
Friendswood EMS got its first ambulance from the city in 1972. “Maybe two years later, the ambulance was parked in the daytime because the men went to work,” Camp said. “And it was basically an all-male fire department. So, the women—my mom and a lot of women—went to school.”
They studied to become EMTs and then paramedics. They would pick up the ambulance in the mornings when the men went to work. Letha Camp was in her 40s when she started running the ambulance in the daytime and continued doing so into her 70s.
“We serve people like they are our neighbors,” Camp said. “‘Neighbors helping neighbors’ is our motto. Most people that come into the volunteer side of the department are definitely residents of Friendswood, and they want to help their neighbor,” she said. “The initiative comes in when you can do something to help somebody else.”
Battalion Chief Greg Mapp, who went to Friendswood High School with Camp, balanced a 30-year nursing career at UTMB Health with his volunteer EMS work in his hometown. He retired from UTMB Health in 2020, but he still volunteers with Friendswood EMS.
He has many examples illustrating the “neighbors helping neighbors” motto.
“We ran into a guy earlier in the summer,” Mapp said. “It was 88 degrees in his house. And his air conditioner wasn’t working, and all the windows were open, and he just was a lift assist. But at the same time, we reached out to an air conditioning company, and we got his air conditioner fixed so that he could have a more pleasant summer. It was just an easy phone call. But we took the time.”
That wasn’t the only instance Friendswood EMS paused to take an extra step.
“When I joined, it was all about the excitement of making a call,” Mapp said.
“But over time, the whole department has also transitioned as our population has changed. We need to do more for folks in their homes. So, if it is a lift assist, we’re helping to get them up off the floor, but at the same time, we’re looking around the house. Do they have enough food? Is the house clean? Do they need resources? Should we help them in some way? To make sure that we’re not coming back to pick them up, but what can we do? And can we spend those extra 10 minutes? What else can I do for you while I’m here?”
Friendswood EMS also has impressive equipment, Mapp said. “I don’t think there’s a good way to sum up the technological advances when an ambulance in Friendswood rolls up to your front door,” Mapp said. “Yes, we’re capable of working cardiac arrest and bringing a massive amount of equipment to the bedside to totally and completely care for a patient. But at the same time, of the 45 years that I’ve been here and the types and kinds of drugs that we carry for a multitude of medical emergencies, patients who receive care here in Friendswood arrive typically more stable in the emergency department today than they did even five years ago.”
That technology is possible because the Friendswood City Council has kept the EMS agency funded and equipped, Camp and Mapp said.
“When the ambulance medics arrive at your house, it’s like walking into the emergency room,” Camp said. “The same things at the emergency room that the doctor or nurse uses are what we have. It’s just incredible that we’ve got this amount of support from the city.”
One thing Camp wants her medics to know is that they should balance work and life. She wants them to prioritize self-care. Her own self-care often involves crossword puzzles and a Wordle interaction.
She also advises her medics to take classes in different fields such as education or welding. She notices many medics in the region wind up taking a second EMS job, which leads to burnout.
And Camp is always looking for new EMT recruits.
“I have loved EMS since I got into it,” she said. “I want to do as much as I can to help people. I want to have good employees. I want to create success in my staff so that they don’t ever feel where they don’t understand something when they’re doing a procedure.
“And then I’ve tried to convince people to stay in EMS,” she said. “But a lot of them just have other dreams, you know, and so sometimes I can keep them, sometimes I can’t.”
One person she has kept is Capt. Stacy Kohn, who began her career through a high school health tech program. That’s how Camp first met her in 2007, in a classroom. Kohn became an EMT, then a paramedic and started volunteering in Friendswood.
Now, Kohn is a full-time paramedic captain.
“I call that succession planning,” Camp said. “So that’s another thing I like to try to do—find people so that we can retire someday.”