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On the Job with Bobby Tripp

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

"On the Job with ..." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Bobby Tripp, Director of Dougherty County EMS.

Q. What was your first job?

A. My first job was working at Keenan Auto Parts in parts delivery while attending Albany Junior College (now Darton College).

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. My first big purchase was a 1974 Buick Century Skylark.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Treat them the same way that you would want to be treated.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. My late father, Ray Tripp, was the director of Emergency Management (Civil Defense then). His assistant was Ralph Ellington. Dougherty County assumed responsibility for ambulance service in 1972, my junior year in college, and the ambulance service was placed under the Civil Defense department. My dad encouraged me to work there that summer in 1972, and I reluctantly agreed. I enjoyed my work so much that I returned in 1973 after I graduated from Valdosta State.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. I am fortunate to have had many influential people in my life. Lawton Parrish was our first EMS director, from 1972 to 1982. I admired his dedication to the profession and his devotion to his personnel. I admired Alan Reddish, former county administrator, for his integrity, poise and confidence in difficult situations. My dad taught me the importance of personal responsibility and a strong work ethic. He was a retired Marine who believed in personal discipline. He also encouraged me to become a valuable part of any organization I worked for, and to represent it well. My mother, Marie Tripp, continues to teach me that relationships are what really matter the most, and that serving the Lord and helping others are requirements.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. I learned that nothing is certain in business/economics. I have seen our employees suffer through this recession, trying to provide for their families, working two or three jobs. I have seen friends lose their jobs and most of their retirement savings. As government employees, I believe we should be fiscally responsible and perform our jobs as we would if we owned the ambulance service.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology - examples email, automated phone systems, phones, PDAs, etc. - what would you most like to see go away?

A. That would be automated phone systems for me.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. I guess my computer, although our employees would probably say that I send out far too many emails. Also, I am impressed with the automated stretchers that we put into service about six years ago. They lift the patients from the ground to the loading position. Our personnel really like this equipment, and it has practically eliminated our lifting injuries.

Q. What is your favorite tradition?

A. Christmas Eve with my family at my mother's house. I also enjoy visiting major league ballparks around the country with my son, Chris.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. The last book I read was Joe Torre's autobiography. I read the Bible regularly, as well as The Albany Herald and EMS publications. I subscribe to ESPN The Magazine, Golf Digest and Money magazines.

Q. I'm up and going by?

A. I am up by 6 a.m. After coffee, a little reading, and a quick check of the scores on SportsCenter, I arrive at work around 7:30 a.m.

Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and why?

A. Arnold Palmer. I appreciate his contribution to the game of golf, how he represented the game, his humility and the way he always found the time to show his appreciation to the fans. We need more celebrities like him.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I enjoy travel and walking, but my favorite hobby is golf with my friends at Stonebridge. I have been playing golf with a group of about 30 people and going on golf trips with them all over the country for the last 25 years. I enjoy teaching Sunday school in the Youth Department at First Baptist Church in Albany.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. In the 1980s, I had a request from some employees to wear jump- suits for their uniforms. I decided that we would wear these at night and they would be orange so we could be easily seen. To say that our employees disliked them is an understatement. They were told that they looked like pumpkins, and they were dubbed "pumpkin suits" by our personnel. They did not last long, but I still hear about the pumpkin suits.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I work with some of the finest people, dedicated professionals who are kind and compassionate with the people they serve. I get to see lives saved and changed when our people use their skill and knowledge to help others.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. The worst thing about my job is that I have to take disciplinary actions sometimes when our personnel do not follow the rules or perform in an unsatisfactory manner. We have 80 personnel and these type of actions are rare because of the quality of the people who work at Dougherty County EMS.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Probably English grammar, but the course I enjoyed the most was French. I took three years in high school and three years in college. I had a high school teacher, Mrs. Rogers, who made it fun to learn because of her enthusiasm.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I was an All-American baseball player in college. When I got out of college and started my EMS career, I got involved in umpiring high school and college baseball. I considered going to professional umpiring school in Florida to pursue a career as a major league umpire. I think that would have been a fun and interesting job.

Q. Finish this thought; "On the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself ..."

A. Visiting some of the places in the book "1,000 Places You Must See."

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Integrity. It's critical to effective leadership.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. Probably another two or three years, unfortunately.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. I listen to '60s and '70s music. My favorite is the Motown music of groups like the Four Tops, Drifters, Supremes, Temptations, etc. I also enjoy all types of Christian music.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. My hope is that we will have a vibrant downtown community with successful shops and restaurants that are well-supported. I hope to see growth in our population and tax bases, and I hope Albany will become a place where people want to live, with good schools and job opportunities.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why?

A. My son, Chris, and I visited Boston in 2009 and had a great time. There is no better place for a history buff like me to visit than Boston to appreciate all the American history. A highlight for us was going to see a Red Sox game in Fenway Park and a tour of the stadium.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. So much has changed in the last 39 years. The technological advances are amazing. All patient care reports are computerized now. We send 12 lead EKGs to the hospital from the scene so the patients can be diagnosed and treated quickly if they are having a heart attack. We have grown from about eight employees in 1972 to 80 employees. Our call volume has increased from about 1,800 per year in 1972 to 20,000 in 2010. We have grown from one station on Flint Avenue that was about 1,000 square feet to five stations and a new state-of-the-art headquarters facility that is 14,000 square feet. The training for an EMT in 1972 was about 150 classroom hours. Today, the paramedic courses at Darton and Albany Technical Colleges are about 1,200 hours of instruction and clinicals. We have vehicles now that are trucks with large modules that provide our personnel adequate space to work on their patients. In 1972, we had the old hearse- type vehicles with little room for patient care or equipment. The change that I am most proud of is that the EMS department in Dougherty County has become a well-respected and important member of the medical system. We have earned the respect of the doctors and nurses, police and fire departments, and the people we serve through our commitment to excellent service and professionalism.