Despite the challenges faced by numerous all-volunteer emergency squads that are struggling to stay afloat financially or with adequate membership, the Chatham Emergency Squad is thriving. Having come through the worst of a national pandemic without a single member becoming infected with the virus, CES is looking forward to continued strength and growth. But it is also looking back. Because this year, CES is celebrating its 85th anniversary.

Originally an outgrowth of the Chatham Fire Department, CES was created by the action of the Borough Council in 1936 and purchased its first ambulance, a Miller LaSalle, two years later. By 1949, the firefighters couldn’t keep up with the demand on the emergency side and in 1951, the Chatham Emergency Squad, Inc. was established as an independent organization. New members were recruited and trained and a year later a fund drive was created to finance a new home for the Squad. In late 1954, the building at 31 North Passaic Avenue was dedicated and the additional funds raised were used to purchase a second ambulance.

The ‘50s and ‘60s saw continued changes. Because staffing was so challenging, the decision to accept women was made in 1959. By 1968, federal and state laws were passed to regulate training in the field of emergency response. A training course for Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) was introduced in New Jersey in the early 70s.

Meanwhile, in Chatham, population growth and real estate spread were making timely response from the Borough building more of a challenge, so plans for a Township building took form. The new building at 45 Spring Street opened on August 9, 1982. Although each building has been renovated once, the last building improvement took place in the Township in 1998.

CES continues the response standards set long ago. Its volunteer members provide emergency response free of charge 24 hours/day every day of the year. CES President, Steve Davenport said, “In addition to the tax savings, an additional benefit to the community of being an all-volunteer squad is our ability to provide non-emergency transport and to assist residents who have medical issues into and out of their homes. We’re also present at Chatham High School football games, Fishawack, and local sports tournaments and fundraising sports events. No paid squad can provide that level of service.”

What started with a few firefighter members in the ‘30s is now a vibrant, professional team of more than 80 members. Members range in age from early 20s to early 70s, are almost equally male and female, and include students, professionals, people who work from home and people who aren’t in the paid workforce. From the 22 calls completed in 1950 to the nearly 1200 calls in 2020, CES has grown as demands upon it have grown.

One tenet of CES’s success is the high standards to which they hold their volunteers. All members must pass the National Registry EMT exam and complete a 12–18-month probationary period in which numerous training classes and experiential assignments must be completed. Each volunteer commits to a 12-hour per week regularly scheduled shift on either the day or night shift, an average of eight-weekend shifts per year and usually one-holiday shift. Members are required to keep up with annual and semi-annual training classes and must complete 48 continuing education hours/3 years to maintain their EMT license.

The counterbalance to those rigorous requirements is CES’s flexibility and mission. CES recognizes that its members have personal obligations, careers, vacations, and unexpected changes that must be accommodated. It’s a given that crew members might need to respond to calls from their homes, offices or while taking care of business. CES insists that no member be financially burdened while pursuing this volunteer opportunity, so training is reimbursed and uniforms are provided.

Members agree that there is no stronger way to bond to their community. Robin Hoppe, Personnel VP and 6-year member said,This volunteer work is very rewarding. You are helping people on what is likely the worst day of their year or even their life. Our patients frequently report that they feel better the minute that we arrive. There’s something about our presence and our actions and our way of communicating with patients that inspires confidence. Joining the Emergency Squad has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. This is a small town and we truly are neighbors helping neighbors.”

CES is an indispensable community service that is funded almost entirely by donations from the community. The annual fund drive is a critically important event to cover its operating expenses for the year. Mailers soliciting donations should be arriving in local businesses and residents’ homes this week.

CES celebrates the important role it has played in the fabric of the lives of the Chathams for 85 years and looks forward to continued growth, change and success in pursuing its mission – to deliver high-quality life-saving care at no charge to the Chatham community. In addition to providing Basic Life Support (BLS) service, CES also hosts blood drives and provides free CPR training to residents, teachers, coaches, school crossing guards and emergency personnel, including fire and police. CES always welcomes new volunteers.

To learn more, to volunteer, or to make a donation to the annual fund, visit www.chathamemergencysquad.org