MONTVILLE, NJ – Members of the Montville Township Volunteer First Aid Squad spoke at the May meeting of the Montville Township Chamber of Commerce to explain about the history and current initiatives of the squad.
Former president Frank Thierwechter told of how the squad was formed by the chamber in 1963 and called the Chamber of Commerce Ambulance Corps, but quickly evolved into a separate non-profit organization.
In 1964 the squad began responding with a 1957 Cadillac ambulance donated by the Boonton Kiwanis.
“It was stored at a member’s home,” Thierwechter told the chamber members attending the May 8 luncheon.
In 1967 the squad built a home for two ambulances in what is now the Montville Township Animal Shelter, then moved again in 1974 to the Sisco Farm (the site of the Community Park) into the barn that housed the milk trucks. The barn is now the building behind the Youth Center with the bathrooms and small meeting room.
In 1997 their current home was built on Changebridge Road near Lazar Middle School.
Thierwechter said the squad is composed of “neighbors helping neighbors.”
“We’re not professionals – we’re your friends, neighbors, and residents, who want to help out in the community,” he said. “We’re giving our time, money, and energy to help everyone in our town who needs emergency care. We respond to your home or business 24/7, and that means jumping out of bed sometimes, throwing on a uniform, driving to the squad house, jumping into the ambulance, and getting to you.”
He stressed, however, that the squad is not taxpayer funded.
“We are a non-profit. You won’t get a bill after we transport you. We work entirely off of donations from residents, businesses, and the township government,” he said. “When the paramedics bill you, it’s usually about $1,500 or more. We don’t receive any funds from hospitals we transport to, either.”
Thierwechter said some towns are moving to a paid ambulance service, or even a system where after 6 p.m. volunteers come on after a daytime paid ambulance service.
“Some people in town are recommending that we go to a paid service, and in the towns where the volunteers come on at dinnertime, they’re extremely busy because people wait and call then,” he said. “If it’s a medical emergency, this is not a good idea. This is not what I want to see for Montville and I hope it’s not what you want to see for Montville. We want to remain a free service for this town. When we arrive, we care for you. When the paramedics come, they want to know your insurance information. We want to know what’s wrong and how we can help you.”
Thierwechter said some of the squad’s challenges include the skyrocketing prices of medication like epinephrine for allergic reactions and narcan for opioid overdoses.
“You may have heard about the price of epi-pens,” he said. “It’s so bad that the military is dispensing expired pens – but we can’t do that. Yet the expiration date is much quicker than they are in Europe.”
Thierwechter also talked about the age of their rigs – ranging from 10 to 15 years old – and the $220,000 it costs to purchase and outfit them. They are currently fundraising to try to purchase a new rig due to all the mechanical problems they are having.
In 2012, the squad took an ambulance “box” and remounted it onto the chassis of a Chevrolet in order to create their newest rig, number 29.
Fellow squad member Ed Coscia said only 27% of residents have donated in the past.
“It’s because we didn’t get enough information out,” Coscia said. “If everybody gave a little, we’d be fine.”
Coscia said he drove past the squad building for 40 years without realizing that it was not taxpayer funded. Now he is an EMT and asks people wherever he goes, “Raise your hand if you think the First Aid Squad is paid for with tax dollars.” He said invariably, people raise their hands.
“I never knew the story until I started volunteering as an EMT myself,” he said.
The First Aid Squad is always seeking new members, and they don’t necessarily have to become emergency medical technicians (EMTs), Thierwechter said.
“We have members who drive the rig and help the EMTs on-scene, and who dispatch,” he said. “But training for EMTs is free.”
For more information about becoming a member or donating, please go to: http://www.montvillefas.org/. The squad is on Facebook at Montville Township First Aid Squad.
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