Guilfoyle Ambulance gains strength: Eldest son steps into CEO post after death of mother in June

Bruce G. Wright, left, is the new president and CEO of Guilfoyle Ambulance Service, shown at the facility with his brothers Toby, center, a paramedic, and Travis, an EMT. Their mother, former president Charmaine G. Wright, died in June. Justin Sorensen/ NNY Business

It may have lost its “matriarch” in June — a woman so in tune with her community that she slept with a police scanner by her bedside and so dedicated to her company that her employees called her ‘Mom’ — but family-run Guilfoyle Ambulance Service hasn’t lost sight of its mission to serve the community.

“If anything, we’ve strengthened since my mother passed away,” Bruce G. Wright, 30, one of Charmaine G. Wright’s three sons, said in an interview earlier this month.

Mr. Wright, who graduated from Watertown High School in 2000 and from Utica College in 2005 with a degree in health studies and management, took over his mother’s role as CEO and president in June. He continues to work closely with his two brothers, Toby and Travis, also Guilfoyle employees. Travis, the youngest of the three, is an EMT and will begin training as a paramedic this fall, while Toby is more a “boots-to-the-ground type of person” who enjoys the operations side and had an interest in emergency medicine since childhood when a heart condition prohibited him from playing sports, Bruce Wright said.

“He lives and breathes this, as many in this line of work do,” Mr. Wright said of Toby.

Mrs. Wright joined Guilfoyle in 1971 when a partner in the company invited her to accompany him on a run to Syracuse. She was “an EMS pioneer,” Charles F. Brenon III, director of Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services told the Watertown Daily Times in June after her funeral.

“Charmaine is a loss not just to Guilfoyle but to the whole county,” he said. “Her loss is a blow to the whole system.”

Mrs. Wright’s late husband, Bruce M., ran the company from 1973 until his sudden death in 1993. At the time, EMS was a very new profession.

“It didn’t start developing its science and real out coming until the 1960s,” Mr. Wright said. “My father took over just as it was starting to become what it is today.”
Coupled with growth in Jefferson County and federal grants to serve Fort Drum, Guilfoyle has consistently expanded its services over the years, which it looks to continue through a focus on community outreach and preventative medicine in the wake of Mrs. Wright’s passing. Guilfoyle, which holds a state certificate of need to serve the county, including the Town of Watertown, has 120 employees and 26 vehicles, including 14 ambulances and six wheelchair vans.

“We see the sky as the limit,” Mr. Wright said. “We want to show the community that we’ve been here since 1907 and that we are a part of this community. We want to make sure we’re meeting health care needs and a productive member of our area.”

Community paramedicine, which essentially extends the role of emergency room doctors to treat and release patients on the spot if they call an ambulance—is an oft-debated program that is still in the works but which could prevent many unnecessary hospital rides, Mr. Wright said.

Meanwhile, with health care costs skyrocketing, Guilfoyle plans to join the growing movement of preventative medicine through programs like hosting blood pressure clinics at apartment complexes and teaching public health education classes. Such initiatives not only connect Guilfoyle to the community and possibly prevent unnecessary emergency room trips, but enable employees to do what they love, Mr. Wright said.

“People only see ambulances when they call 911, they rarely see our people,” he said. “But generally people do this job because they’re people people. They’d rather be out there talking to people and caring for them as opposed to filing paperwork or doing other things like that.”

He likened these initiatives, which can be as simple as educating the population on how to properly install car seats and exercise daily, to the fact that fire prevention is a part of firefighting services.

“Prevention and finding a way to make society healthier is absolutely in the future for us,” Mr. Wright said. “As far as what we do and where we go, that remains to be seen.”

That direction seems to be forward in a year of challenges and changes for the company. On Jan. 4, Guilfoyle moved from a cramped headquarters on Jewell Drive that it occupied for 40 years to a spacious and remodeled building on Faichney Drive. Half of the building is the Bruce M. Wright Memorial Conference Center, a 13,000-square-foot building that can be used for everything from CPR classes to organizational meetings to baby showers, Mr. Wright said, calling the space “very affordable and accessible.”

He said he is pleased with how renting the space has gone so far and called it an “adjustment” rather than a challenge to implement a new system of placing ambulances around the county to maximize call response times.

And, as evidence that the company is upholding Mrs. Wright’s legacy, Mr. Wright described how the Friday after his family buried his mother, the company was able to get enough people and vehicles together to take second place in the annual Jefferson County Agriculture Promotion Board Dairy Festival parade.

“My mother would’ve been extremely proud,” he said. “And it makes me extremely proud and confident in what our people can do.”

Additional reporting by Johnson Newspapers staff writer Daniel Flatley.

Leah Buletti is a staff writer for NNY magazines. Reach her at 661-2381 or lbuletti@wdt.net.