James Sheerin, a founder of the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corps, remembers how the organization brought together the community.
“The volunteers were from all walks of life—policemen, firefighters, storekeepers and farmers,” Sheerin said.
Fifty years ago, with a donation of $1,500 from the Lions Club, the corps formed and purchased its first ambulance. Response time for emergencies was cut from half an hour to minutes.
At an anniversary celebration on Sept. 13 at the Salem Golf Club, decades of volunteers gathered to reminisce.
Eileen Haight, a founder and lifetime member of NSVAC, said she is proud to be a volunteer with the corps.
“We all love what we do and we are doing the best we can,” Haight said.
Sheerin recalled how 50 years ago little training was required and limited equipment was available to help those in need. The top priority was to transport patients to a hospital as quickly as possible. He is delighted to see current members continue the good work with the assistance of professional training and modern equipment.
“The young people today are carrying on what we started 50 years ago, and they should be admired for that,” Sheerin said.
In the span of a few decades, while the demand of emergency medical services in the town has risen, the number of volunteers has decreased from 38 to 17.
Maria Hlushko, captain of the NSVAC, said one of the reasons is that the one-income family gave way to the two-income family, reducing the availability of homemakers—once the core of the corps. She said it would be nice to have at least 56 volunteers to answer the 450 calls it gets annually.
“My biggest challenge is we don’t have enough volunteers,” Hlushko said.
Meanwhile, the higher standards required for being an Emergency Medical Technician mean a bigger time commitment from volunteers. Typically it takes about three months of training to drive an ambulance independently, and at least eight months to be qualified as an EMT.
However, time commitment did not stop new members like Angelica Storino, a recent college graduate, from joining. For her, it’s a great way to give back to the community. Two years ago she started with little experience and has since grown as an EMT with help from fellow volunteers and team leaders.
“I plan to volunteer here as long as I can,” Storino said.
Although sometimes it’s challenging for volunteers to deal with trauma, Hlushko said the team is always there for them. For some incidents, especially those involving fatalities, the corps invites professionals to provide counseling services.
“It gives everybody a chance to understand what happened and talk about it,” Hlushko said.
In addition to a shortage of volunteers, the corps needs to continually raise funds. Kurt Guldan, president of NSVAC who joined 23 years ago, has been working to maintain operation of the corps. NSVAC is funded through donations and patients’ bills and gets a portion of the town budget. The group depends on fundraisers and community outreach to balance the budget.
On the 50th anniversary, town and county leaders came together to recognize the efforts of the NSVAC over the years. Supervisor Warren Lucas presented the group with a proclamation and said he was grateful to all of the members who have served.
“It’s really a selfless service...They’re out all the time,” Lucas said. “I just want to say thank you from the people of North Salem, to not only the current members but also to everybody who has served.”