APEX — Before 1971, residents with a medical emergency called Apex Funeral Home for transportation to Raleigh hospitals. In fact, Apex’s first ambulance was a donated hearse.
Emergency medical care was a new frontier in Wake County, which had only three rescue units. Apex had about 2,000 people; a dozen of them, members of the Apex Jaycees, founded the all-volunteer emergency rescue unit.
Among them was Nicky Winstead, a chicken farmer and poultry salesman, who would become the town’s first EMS director and a mentor to nearly every EMS chief in Wake County.
Winstead, 71,who has come to symbolize Apex EMS, is retiring after decades of helping to bring the unit from a volunteer crew to a full-fledged town department. His last official day is Friday.
This is Winstead’s third – and final – attempt to retire in as many years. Each time he has tried to hang up his uniform, an organizational crisis has stopped him. Winstead has stood up for Apex EMS during Wake County’s attempts to take over the department.
Apex Town Manager Bruce Radford joked there were at least two retirement plaques with different years around town hall.
“I’m not sure how many times we’ve planned your retirement,” Radford said. “I lost count after the first time. I think one of the reasons is that it is hard for us to let you go.”
Radford credits Winstead with helping to save many lives. His influence will continue to ripple for years, he said.
“Apex EMS is where it is today because of Nicky Winstead,” said Assistant Town Manager Mike Wilson. “We all know he’s been the driving force, the glue that’s held it together.”
In the beginning
When the Apex Rescue formed in 1971, its crew got basic and advanced first aid training, and that was it, said founding member James Herndon.
“It was just 12 guys seeing if we could start a squad,” Herndon said. “We learned a lot through experience.”
Winstead took the very first Apex Rescue Squad call to help a 1-year-old having a seizure. The unit later gave the “rescue” part of its operations to the fire department and focused on medical service.
In August 2009, the town agreed to take over Apex EMS Inc. and its $1 million in financial assets. In 2011, Apex EMS became a town department with Winstead as its chief.
“I think he cares about people,” Herndon said. “One of the reason he’s been such a good manager is he gets the job done.”
Winstead has no idea what’s next: “I’m going to miss getting up and going to work.”