Camille Culbertson is proof you don’t have to be some big-wig, top executive within a company to truly make a difference.
The innocent-faced, unassuming 30-something changed the training protocol of the small, 27-member Manassas Park Fire and Rescue Department just two years after arriving.
Camille said she saw a way for everybody in the department to maintain their state certifications, without having to take time off work to attend training sessions in Prince William County.
Her idea? Have the department members train each other—in house.
She took it a step further by having the department conduct the training sessions several times a month, instead of just once every four years. This helps them keep what they’ve learned fresh in their minds, she said.
“I thought that hopefully we could get a better education if we do it amongst ourselves,” she said. “If we care about it and we take the time to teach each other, then I think there’s a lot we can learn from each other.”
Teaching in house keeps more people on duty which, in turn, provides a better service to the people of Manassas Park, Camille said.
The classes are usually taught by the medics on duty; in order for Camille to run the classes as a EMT-Basic state certified instructor, she had to undergo a stringent testing process.
In the last three years, Camille has also wrote directives and suggested medications that the department should add to its protocols to make its service to the community even better.
“The thing about a small department is you can make an impact the day you step in the door, if you wanted to, Camille said. “Just figure out what you want to do and no one will stand in your way.”
Camille, the daughter of a registered nurse and an electrical engineer, said she’s always been interested in helping people. She acted on that interest early on by taking lifeguarding classes in high school.
Later in life, she became a graphic artist, but found the career to be unfulfilling and mundane because she wanted to help people, Camille said.
“ … I got tired of sitting at a desk and making designs and not actually helping anyone; I thought if I was actually going to do something for the rest of my life, I want to make a difference,” she said.
She took a part-time EMT class and then started volunteering in Alexandria. It was there where she met medics Chip Myers and Mike Tabb who instilled a love for EMS in her, Camille said.
“I think if you care strongly about something, then you get the courage to pursue it,” she said.
One of the things she loves most about her job is the fact she gets to help people almost immediately, Camille said.
“There is just something really fulfilling about that, being able to help them in their time of need and not to just help them get better eventually, but to help them in that moment,” she said.
But then there are those moments when help, passion and love of occupation just aren’t enough to save someone’s life.
In situations where things are out of the EMTs or medics' control, they mustn’t blame themselves, Camile said.
“I think it goes back to trusting that you did the best you can do and the most you can do to keep them alive,” she said. “You just do the best with what you have. You work with your level of training and if it’s more than what you can do, then you get them to a place that can help them.”
She always sees the glass as half full, no matter what, Camille said. Pessimism has no place in her occupation.
Most of the time, EMTs are able to follow up and see what becomes of their patients after being admitted to hospitals. And sometimes, the patients seek them out to say thank you for a job well done, she said.
“In my opinion, it’s the greatest job. It’s fulfilling. And you’re not stuck in an office somewhere,” she said. "I feel very lucky to have this career and be able to serve the people of Manassas Park."