Despite obstacles, Ambulance Squad is doing well

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    SPARTA-The Sparta Volunteer Ambulance Squad has come a long way since its inception in 1947. In its first year the squad responded to 48 calls, now it receives roughly 1,000 calls a year. The squad is comprised of 53 certified emergency medical technicians who volunteer their time and skills to serve the community of Sparta seven days a week, 24 hours a day. According to Mary Hookway, Public Information Officer for the organization and a member since 1991, the increase of the number of calls and the growth of the community presented a challenge for the squad to maintain the same level of service and preparedness. "I don't know of any volunteer ambulance squad in the surrounding municipalities that has not experienced a shortage of day time volunteers. It can sometimes be difficult during the day shift of 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.," said Hookway. "Years ago there were more volunteers available during the day, but since it's common now for couples to both work outside the home, the result is, we have fewer volunteers available during daylight hours." In addition to their first responder duties, members of the squad are regularly assigned to special functions such as high school sporting events, races or walkathons and other public events where it is required to have an EMT unit present. Although Hookway declined to mention any specific incident, she said there have occasions in the past when the lack of daytime volunteers has created a safety issue for the Sparta community. "Time was wasted during the attempts to get available EMT workers to the scene," she said, adding that although such calls were eventually answered successfully, it was this type of issue that caused the squad's officers to take action to minimize similar incidents in the future. Since 2000, Sparta has participated in a Collective Response Program in cooperation with the Franklin Squad/Wallkill Valley First Aid Squad and with Ogdensburg First Aid Squad. "We have an agreement for collective response, so that no time is wasted after a 911 call, for any of the towns," says Hookway. Based on the agreement, if there is not an adequate response from the volunteers from the town where the incident takes place, the dispatcher will immediately put a call out to the other participating towns requesting assistance at the scene. "We have a very good working relationship with the other municipality's volunteer squads. This program works well to help with the daytime volunteer shortage," said Hookway. "We often need to work together, and we all allow each other the room to perform our specific jobs at a scene." The services the ambulance squad offers are free of charge to those in need of emergency medical assistance. Hookway explained that many people in town don't realize that the ambulance squad is a separate organization from the fire department. "Since we are two separate organizations, so are our fund-raising efforts," she said. Contrary to popular perception, the squad is not funded by the municipality. In fact it only receives a small annual stipend from the local government, the rest of its operating expenses are covered with funds collected from the community. Since the squad is run completely by volunteers, all of the money raised goes toward its operating expenses, according to Hookway. Anyone interested in volunteering with the Sparta Ambulance Squad can obtain an application by calling 973-726-0635. Applicants must become certified Emergency Medical Technicians. Prior medical experience is not necessary. Defensive driving and CPR certifications are also required for those interested in responding to calls. Tuition for these courses is funded through the NJ EMT Training Act Fund, so there is no cost to prospective new members.