TROY – Donna Strong’s administrative duties with FirstHealth Regional EMS keep her busy, so busy that she is rarely in the field engaging in her self-described passion for rescue work.
Donna Strong received a Gold Nugget Award from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce after serving two terms as president of the organization’s Board of Directors. A longtime EMS professional, she currently serves as one of three directors of FirstHealth Regional EMS.
Occasionally, though, something will draw her back to the front lines. The event might be as high-profile as a multi-casualty shooting at a Montgomery County business. Or as quietly thoughtful as retrieving a little girl’s dance costumes from her mother’s wrecked car.
Both scenarios are real and illustrate Strong’s dedication to caring, one that described her life both personally and professionally long before FirstHealth adopted the phrase “to care for people” as its core purpose.
“I was brought up that if you ever saw anything that needed to be done, you did it,” Strong says. “If you ever saw anyone who needed help, you helped them.”
In FirstHealth of Carolinas circles, Strong is known as one of three directors of FirstHealth Regional EMS. In Montgomery County, where she grew up and still lives, she is also known as a tireless supporter of the local business community.
In early February, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce recognized her many efforts with a Gold Nugget Award, a recognition given only occasionally and then only to members of the community who go “above and beyond” with their service.
“I was pleasantly surprised to be a recipient of the award along with outgoing Chamber president and First Bank vice president Judy Estridge,” Strong says. “I appreciate the opportunity to represent FirstHealth for so many years on the Chamber board, and I look forward to continued involvement through FirstHealth.”
Strong’s work with the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce began nearly eight years ago when she was asked to serve on the organization’s Board of Directors. The commitment eventually turned into a term as the group’s vice president and then two terms as president.
She left the board in January, but she plans to remain active as a representative of FirstHealth (a corporate sponsor) and as a Montgomery County business owner.
In 2007, Strong and several members of her family opened what began as a sales outlet for family-made crafts and eventually came to include a consignment operation for other local craftsmen and artisans. Now a full-service flower shop managed by Strong’s mother and niece, the Briarpatch is located in a building in downtown Star that Strong bought in the early 1980s to house her first business – Montgomery County’s first video sales and rental store.
As a Montgomery County resident interested in the success of the local business community as well as a downtown stakeholder, Strong co-chaired the local STEP (Small Towns Economic Prosperity) committee, which met regularly for a couple of years to determine ways of using funding from the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center to revitalize downtown Star. The group of 25 to 30 townspeople had plenty of ideas and has begun to see some success.
“Two businesses have purchased vacant buildings and created jobs,” Strong says, “and we’re applying for parts of Main Street to be a Historic District.”
According to Chamber president Tricia Webb, Strong became something of a go-to person for the organization. “I can’t say enough good things about her,” Webb says. “She is a wonderful person, and you can count on her to be there whenever you need her. Any kind of assistance you need, she’s there for you.”
Strong was working for what is now FirstHealth of the Carolinas, as an employee of Moore Regional’s Critical Care Transport Team, even before the merger of Montgomery Memorial Hospital and Moore Regional Hospital created the organization in 1995. She became director of FirstHealth Montgomery EMS in 1999.
As a regional EMS director, she is also responsible for FirstHealth EMS Chatham and FirstHealth Fleet Management, whose directors report to her; as well as Critical Care Transport and an on-site FirstHealth ambulance on contract to Scotland Memorial Hospital.
She reports to Brian Canfield, chief operating officer of Moore Regional Hospital. “Donna is a valuable member of the FirstHealth team who embodies our core purpose, ‘to care for people,’” Canfield says. “It is evident that she takes that spirit of caring into her community with her extensive Chamber work and her advocacy for a variety of Montgomery County projects. We are all very proud of her.”
Strong got her start in rescue work in 1981 as a member of Emergency Medical Rescue in Star, an organization of which she is still a member. Later, she became the second woman to be certified as a rescue instructor for the state of North Carolina.
She has done EMS work in both Montgomery and Moore counties, taught in the paramedic programs of Montgomery Community College, Richmond Community College and Sandhills Community College, and even spent three years with Chapel Hill’s Carolina Air Care program.
She is especially proud of the role she played in Montgomery County’s decision to provide paramedic-level emergency services, a move that made Montgomery the 36th of North Carolina’s 100 counties to do so and the first county that was not (at the time) located on an interstate highway.
“It was a big deal,” she says.
Even with the responsibility of her career, the small business involvement and all of the volunteer work, Strong has also managed to have a personal life. Husband Garon is retired from the military and is now a physician assistant with Sandhills Emergency Physicians. Son John is a student at Appalachian State University, and daughter Susan is a freshman at East Montgomery High School.
The commitment to service seems to be a family thing as John Strong plans to major in sociology with an emphasis on social inequality and Susan Strong wants to be a doctor.
Judy Estridge, Strong’s co-recipient of the Chamber Gold Nugget Award, calls her a “wonderful advocate of children, for all children, not just her own.”
“She just has a heart of gold,” Estridge says. “She cares about the community she lives in, the town of Star, and she’s very supportive of anything she touches. What an honor to be chosen in the same category with her.”