WESTFIELD, NJ — It’s a Friday morning and members of the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad are picking up breakfast at their favorite bagel place. The squad’s vice president, Lynn Feldman, is with them this shift and, after 23 years on the squad, she knows better than to sit down at a restaurant. At any moment they might have to rush out and save someone’s life.
Back at their headquarters, volunteers chat with each other as they wait for the alarm to sound. And, sure enough, it does. A group of EMTs dashes to one of their three ambulances.
“There’s always adrenaline when you get a call. You can’t let it get the best of you,” said Ignacio Castro from behind the wheel after he sets the siren wailing. “It definitely teaches you how to deal with real-life experiences.”
Castro changes the sound of the siren as he cautiously drives through an intersection toward the emergency, alerting the drivers around him that the ambulance is coming through. Not all of the cars get out of the way. Castro keeps his cool—he’s used to this.
Castro and Feldman are two of more than 100 volunteers with the squad who provide people with emergency medical service and transportation to hospitals 24/7, always for free, mostly in Westfield but also in surrounding towns, when needed.
When they’re not volunteering, some of the squad’s volunteers are medical professionals, but not all. Some are students. Some are retirees. Others just love helping people. All work for free, for a minimum of 5 hours a week.
The squad receives about 200 calls a month, according to Feldman. They have at least one crew on call at all times, but currently there are not enough volunteers to keep two crews on during all shifts.
“We could certainly use more people,” said Feldman. “There are a lot of wonderful people here at the squad and a lot of intangible benefits.”
“Being an EMT is one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve pretty much seen everything. Some stories have a happy ending. Some don’t. But if you love this job, you understand,” said Castro.
When you train with the rescue squad, “You learn lifelong skills that you can use anywhere, any time,” said Feldman. “You’re benefiting your community, you’re benefiting your family and friends and you feel competent when there’s an emergency.”
Twenty-year-old Jahad Leach, who is in training with the squad to become a full member, joined so that he could get experience that he hopes will help him get into medical school.
“I like it so far. It’s good experience,” said Leach. “You kind of don’t learn it until you actually experience it.”
Not everyone with the squad is an EMT. About 35 members work as dispatchers, including Richard Coates, who volunteers two days a week. Coates joined 10 years ago, when he left his job as a dispatcher for the police department.
“I wanted to continue to contribute,” said Coates. “So I came here. It puts you in the middle of things. You stay in touch with the town.”
Volunteers also enjoy the sense of comraderie that comes with serving on the squad.
“We are a family. We take care of each other,” said Feldman. That may explain why members often stay with the squad for decades—at least one member has been with them for 40 years, according to Feldman.
Volunteers do not need to be from Westfield, but living locally is considered a plus. There is no age requirement, but you must hold a New Jersey driver’s license to join as an EMT. Dispatchers must have completed their sophomore year in high school.
“It doesn’t require a lot of hours after you complete your initial training,” said Feldman. “This is your community. Come out and help.”
To find out more about joining the Westfield Rescue Squad, call 908-233-2500.
Though none of its members are paid, the squad relies on donations to cover expenses including maintaining ambulances, purchasing new ambulances, life-saving equipment and supplies and maintaining the squad’s 60-year-old building, which had some big plumbing expenses this year, Feldman said. This year, the squad also needs to renovate its bay doors to accommodate new ambulances, which are taller.
To donate, send a check to PO BOX 356, Westfield, NJ 07091 with “Fund Drive” written in the memo.
Learn more at www.westfieldrescuesquad.org.