VAN BUREN- Every once in a while, a rare individual comes along who makes an impression on nearly everyone he or she meets. Peter Carbonneau of Van Buren was that kind of person.
People who knew him will remember him for the strong voice he was in his community, the life of service he chose, and for his huge contagious smile.
Peter performed the most noble of jobs, caring for others in their greatest time of need as a paramedic on the Van Buren Ambulance Service. It was while he was finishing up at the station after a call earlier in the day on Easter Sunday that Peter suddenly passed away, despite his fellow EMS workers’ efforts to revive him.
“It is difficult to pay tribute to someone like Pete in a few words,” said Peter LaPlante, Van Buren Ambulance Service director. “He was much more than a co-worker. He was a mentor and a friend. He touched many lives in so many different ways. More than any one of us will ever know.”
Peter lived a life of service that started at a young age. When he was just 24 years old, he began volunteering with the ambulance service. Over his years as an EMS worker and later as a paramedic, he helped to save countless lives on ambulances both in Van Buren and, for a shorter time, in Madawaska. He earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Maine Emergency Medical Services annual awards ceremony in 2006. He also volunteered for the Van Buren Fire Department for 24 years, and they made him an honorary firefighter after his retirement.
Van Buren Fire Chief Dana Violette said, “Peter Carbonneau was a very dedicated man that lived to help people. 7 days a week 24 hours a day. It almost seemed like he never slept. He had a level of compassion for the common citizens of our community that will never be matched. His passion for whatever he was involved in was a model for all of us that knew and worked with him. He was the voice for those who needed to be heard. He was a leader, a teacher, and will be surely missed.”
As if he wasn’t busy enough already, Peter, who was just 51-years-old, found time to pass along his passion for helping others to a new generation of EMS workers as a teacher and mentor. Mira Saucier, an emergency healthcare worker who came to know Peter as she was completing her training while working in the St. John Valley, said that Peter inspired her to stay in her field of work, even when she felt like throwing in the towel.
“He had a way of making everyone feel important. Like they counted,” said Saucier. “When I was director for Madawaska, we would talk on a regular bases. He would give me encouragement that I needed to keep going.”
Peter was more than just good at his job. He was an example worthy of imitation.
“When Peter brought in a patient to the ER, you could be assured that everything that needed to be done was done. And his patient's adored him,” said Saucier.
LaPlante added, “I remember when my father passed away, Peter was the ALS person on that call. When we saw Pete sitting in the ER, we had no doubt that he had received the best care possible and it was never forgotten. He is the reason I got into this line of work and I always said that if I can be half the Paramedic that Pete was, I would be doing a hell of a job.”
Peter left pieces of himself with so many people, but especially with others who chose to work in the emergency response fields.
“I met Peter as a child, he was a coworker and good friend with my mother. I had the pleasure to finally get to see what kind of man he really was in January 2000 when I joined our local fire department,” said Bruce Bouley, Deputy Fire Chief and EMA for the Grand Isle Fire Department. “Peter fought fires with us and taught our CPR classes. I also had Pete as an instructor for a First Responder EMS class. In my eyes, Peter was as close to a saint as you could get, besides the colorful language and smoking.”
“Pete was always concerned about the community. You saw that in his teaching and his involvement in the community,” said LaPlante. “Whenever he taught a class, he had a certain way that he would want things done. As he said, ‘People may think I'm a perfectionist, but patient care will not be compromised while I'm around.’ That is the legacy he left us with and will be what we will continue to strive for.”
Peter embodied service and commitment to his community. He recently chaired the SAD 24 school board and served on many other municipal or community boards and associations, including Van Buren Housing Authority and Van Buren Light and Power District. He also served as trustee of Van Buren Hospital District and was an Aroostook County bail commissioner for 20 years.
Peter wore his love for his town on his sleeve. Few town council meetings passed without Peter in the audience ready to candidly voice his concerns or opinions. He was willing to speak his mind regardless of the consequences and his peers respected him even more for doing so fearlessly. Despite the passion he exhibited at town meetings, everyone who knew Peter knew he also loved to laugh. He was a storyteller, a jokester, and, many say, a good friend.
“He had a great big heart. When you were scared, he always found a way to make you laugh and make you feel at ease,” said Sheila Cannon, Van Buren resident and Fort Kent Chamber Director.
Peter cared deeply for people, but had a special fondness for children.
“He just adored everyone’s kids. You talk to most people that grew up in Van Buren and they will have a story about ‘Big Pete’ as most people affectionately called him,” said Saucier. “Kids would ride by on their bikes and he’d yell stuff like ‘Slow down! I have to come pick up the pieces!’ He was a special person to me and many others. He's the kind of person that inspires greatness in others through his compassion and dedication.”
Tomorrow, the community of Van Buren will say their last good-byes to Peter at a ceremony scheduled at St. Bruno’s Catholic Church beginning at noon. The service will celebrate his life and immeasurable contributions to society and his community. Beyond a doubt, his legacy will live on in the people whose lives he touched.
“It's funny how some people leave an imprint on your heart. I wish I could of gotten just one last hug,” said Saucier. “I was so looking forward to going to work there this Sunday cause I hadn't seen my friend and we had a lot to catch up on.”
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