SUMMIT, NJ - As life has changed for everyone since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, so has it changed for the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad. However, while many business and services are reduced or closed, the Squad volunteer EMTs are still answering calls for help, with more than 300 of them answered since March 1.
The COVID-19 crisis has changed the way the Squad responds to calls and some equipment that is used, but no call goes unanswered. While a few Squad members have stepped back from active duty to protect family members with health issues, several college members have returned home and helped to fill the Squad's ranks.
Like most first response and healthcare organizations, obtaining the personnel protective equipment (PPE) has become a challenge. “After seeing how quickly we were using our supply of disposable gowns, we obtained heavier duty reusable protective suits and issued one to each active member," said Squad Chief Kari Phair.
Volunteers assembled a decontamination booth in the ambulance bay for cleaning after a call, and the Squad also has been fortunate to receive several donations from local businesses and residents that included N95 respirators, surgical masks and face shields.
Two area high schools are among those using 3D printers to manufacture face shield bodies to which a clear file is attached, and several area residents are making cloth masks that can be worn over an N95, helping extend its use. When obtaining the disinfection products used in the ambulances became difficult, and the Squad obtained a UV sanitizing device; the same technology used by many hospitals including Overlook Medical Center.
Squad President Bob Flanagan reiterated that, “The safety of our members and patients remains our #1 priority.”
A variety of local restaurants and good neighbors have also been sending food to the Squad. This is especially helpful since the duration for a typical medical call has been much longer these days resulting in missed meals. “Our volunteers truly appreciate the show of support from the community," said Flanagan.
While the number of calls has risen only slightly, the locations have changed. With people staying home more, the Squad is seeing fewer car accidents and emergencies at places of business, while calls to a patient’s home have increased substantially.
On April 7, the Summit First Aid Squad led an effort to thank their local heroes: health care providers at Overlook Medical Center. Thirty-six 36 different agencies joined the Summit Squad in an appreciation parade past Overlook. Summit Squad members participated in a similar effort the following week for St Barnabas Medical Center. Videos of both can be seen on the Squad's YouTube Channel
Crew Chief John Staunton, who also serves as Summit’s Board of Health President, believes we may have passed the peak in COVID-19 cases. “We've had two days this week with no new COVID-19 cases in Summit and last week had three ambulances respond to simultaneous calls, none of which were COVID-related”.
The all-volunteer First Aid Squad, responds to emergency calls 24/7, is entirely funded through private donations and does not bill for service. The Squad is always looking for new volunteers to join its ranks. All needed training, uniforms and equipment is provided. For information on becoming a volunteer, or donating to the Squad, call 908-277-9479 or visit summitems.org.