Category: Archive

The model medic

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“I love going to work as a paramedic, I never liked going to work as a model,” she said last week.
Chambers grew up in a sheltered Mormon Community in Utah. Originally from Belfast, her parents had moved to the U.S. when she was a toddler. Her father had worked as a shipyard welder in Ireland.
By the time she was 16, Chambers knew that she wanted to go to New York. She and a friend had long talked about moving there. She wanted to be a model, he wanted to be a make up artist. Finally, they took the step and left Utah.
“We were so young, we didn’t really think about what we were doing,” Chambers said. They shared an apartment in the East Village and Chambers got her first job in the fashion industry.
“I got a job in a jewelry factory,” she said. “I thought making jewelry would be great but it was not so easy. We would be shown a pattern of a necklace and be told to make 350 of them in a day. I stayed for a month.”
Now 36, Chambers recalls her early missteps with laughter. She stands 6 feet toll, has glossy black hair that she wears in a bob, and green eyes. Wearing a leopard print coat, she stands out from the crowd on Fifth Avenue. Not surprisingly, as a young woman she had little trouble getting signed on by an agency. “I just stood in line when the agencies had their open days,” she said, downplaying her early success.
The first step in a modeling career is to build up a portfolio of work in Europe. Models are sent to Paris and Milan where there is a constant demand for fresh faces. As Chambers describes the experience: “You are sent to France at 17 and you don’t speak French. The agency doesn’t provide chaperones, because they don’t give a damn. Their concern is that you work hard and earn money for them. As a young girl you are very vulnerable.”
Chambers’s experience in Italy was not much better. “My first job was for Italian Vogue,” she recalled. “That sounds glamorous but the reality is different. We were all housed in a hotel together. The agencies would give our telephone number to all the playboys that hung around the fashion scene.” The girls, she said, were encouraged to socialize with these men in the hope of getting more work for the agency.
For Chambers, the dream quickly turned sour. “I hated every moment of the job,” she said. “There was always a chance that someone would tell you, ‘You are too fat, your eyes are too small, your face too big.’ Luckily, I had a good head on my shoulders. If someone told me that I had to lose weight, I would think they were out of their minds.”
Chambers knew that the work would not last forever. “Magazine work dries up once a model reaches her early 20s and her skin is not as young. Then there is runway work. After that, the jobs just get worse and worse.” Chambers knew she wanted out of the business when she found herself dressed as a green bean for a vitamin advertising campaign.
She expresses no surprise about the current bind that Elite Model Agency owner John Casablancas finds himself in. He’s been sued by a model who claims he seduced her when she was 15 and then convinced her to have an abortion when she became pregnant. “There are so many awful people in the business, so many lunatics,” she said. “It is cutthroat. They only care about making money out of you.”
With an insight into the fashion business, Chambers says she would never let her daughter model. “Even now, I can’t stand having my photo taken, that’s how negative my feelings are about the business,” she said.

Career change
Once Chambers turned 28, she realized that the work was not going to improve and she started to look at other options. She had been fascinated by medicine since she was 10. “I cut my finger and needed stitches. The doctor explained the procedure to me and I was so interested” she recalled.
She started to do an Emergency Medical Training course and really enjoyed the challenge. The next logical step was to do the paramedic training.
“That involved a very intense course, two years’ work squeezed into one,” she said.
Chambers used to run from modeling jobs in full makeup to her training on the ambulances. “No one ever seemed to think it was unusual — these people have seen stranger things,” she said.
It was around this time that Chambers went on a blind date. Initially unenthusiastic, she went along and met Eric Gural, who is now her husband. They have been married for 6 years and have two young children, Ethan, 4, and Ava, 2. He was supportive of her leaving modeling and trying something more rewarding.
Chambers completed the training and soon found herself immersed in the work. “Despite the dangers, I love it,” she said. “Most of us are adrenalin junkies. We love the more exciting jobs where people have been shot or someone has fallen under a train.” She describes how the paramedics steal jobs from each other. “It is called ‘buffing,’ racing to get to the scene of the incident first.”
Chambers enjoys the down-to-earth nature of the job, an atmosphere in which colleagues are close. “A typical shift is eight hours long,” she said. “You get to know your colleagues very well when you are sitting with them for that long.”
One of the first partners she had on the job was Eddie Caballero. They worked together in Brooklyn. Caballero was surprised at first that a fashion model would want to work as a paramedic.
“You see this tall, beautiful woman dealing with the dregs of life,” Caballero said. “Rhona may not fit the typical description of a paramedic, but she epitomizes all the important qualities of what makes an excellent paramedic. She is knowledgeable and loves helping people.”
Chambers works for two hospitals, Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn and St. Vincent’s in Greenwich Village. “I work part time now because of my children, so the social aspect of the job has become even more important,” Chambers said.
Chambers admits that there are unsavory aspects to the job, and distressing incidents, such as when she was punched when she was pregnant. She is now able to laugh at these incidents, though, and admits that her husband does not know the full extent of what happens when out on a shift.
“People can get very angry with us if they think we are not doing enough to help the victim,” she said. “I can understand that. They are frightened and don’t realize that we have all the same equipment as an emergency room.”
Chambers has become immune to surprise on the job. “I had an experience where we called to see a guy who had been shot in the spine. He was a drug dealer and his main worry was to get rid of the drugs he was carrying. The problem was that he was carrying them in his anus; he asked me to remove them for him. I am not squeamish, but I told him that I would in hell.”
Chambers clearly relishes the work and does not miss the fickle world of fashion.
“We are making a difference and helping people,” she said. “I have no interest in clothes designers now, no interest at all.” She still comes across the rarefied world of wealth and privilege. “We have been told in the Upper East Side apartments to be careful not to dirty the carpet,” she said.
Chambers is aware of the hectic nature of her job and the toll it can take. “The burnout factor is high for paramedics,” she said. “You can’t really be a full-time paramedic at 50, but if I could, I would like to do this for the rest of my life.”

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese