Pa. Ambulance Service Seeks Volunteers


Steve Snyder | | Thursday, February 21, 2008

NEWMANSTOWN, Pa. -- This growing community's ambulance service is seeking reinforcements.

Like other all-volunteer organizations, Newmanstown (Pa.) Ambulance relies on the time its members can contribute. Because many of them hold full-time jobs, it's tough to find enough volunteers to answer all the calls.

Newmanstown Ambulance responded to 474 calls in 2005 and 478 calls in 2006. Last year, the total responses declined to 405 -- not because there were fewer calls but because volunteers weren't always available.

"We probably had over 500 (ambulance) calls," said Mike Belleman, who serves as Newmanstown's fire chief.

His wife, Vicki, works as a certified emergency medical technician for First Aid and Safety Patrol and volunteers with Newmanstown's ambulance service.

In addition to Millcreek Township, Newmanstown responds to calls in Richland and part of western Berks County, including Womelsdorf and portions of Marion and North Heidelberg townships.

If Newmanstown isn't available, a neighboring ambulance is called from Myerstown or Schaefferstown in Lebanon County, Reinholds in Lancaster County or Robesonia in Berks County.

"People take everything for granted, especially people who moved here," Mike Belleman said. "They think we have paid services with EMS and fire, because they may have had that where they lived before."

Although Newmanstown ambulance has a roster of about two-dozen responders, only 11 are regulars.

"All are somewhat active, but those 11 are the core people who take the rig out on the roads," Mike Belleman said.

Leading the way last year was Kim Hurst, who responded to 123 calls, followed by Vicki Belleman with 116 and Charles McCully with 107.

"Each call lasts two and a half to three hours," Vicki Belleman said. "Then we have reports to file with the state."

At least two technicians go out on each call.

"We try to have a scheduled crew from 9 in the evening until 6 in the morning every day," said Steve Zimmerman, a volunteer who works as a full-time EMT for First Aid and Safety Patrol.

Zimmerman began his career in 1986. He has had hundreds of hours of training and, along with the other volunteers, is required by state and federal laws to undergo updates continually.

"Homeland Security is really pushing new training," he said.

"For grants, you have to have documentation (of training)," Mike Belleman said. "If you don't have your certs, you can't even bill (for services)."

Zimmerman's wife, Barbara, is Newmanstown's training officer.

"She makes sure everyone's certifications are up to date," Zimmerman said.

Because Elco High School offers a basic EMT course, the unit receives a few trained volunteers, but only a handful stick around for more than a year or two, Mike Belleman noted.

"They have to be 16 to ride along as an observer," Zimmerman said. "At least that can get them into the environment."

The group holds monthly meetings and training sessions.

Although the fire company and ambulance service are separate entities, they work as a team.

"We get along really good," Zimmerman said. "Our guys work together."

Mike Belleman said the company needs volunteers who assist with other duties besides responding for emergencies and transports.

"There are people who do grant writing," he said. "We have apartment rentals we need help with."

The Bellemans operate a family construction and cabinet company. In emergencies, like the January ice storm or last summer's flooding, they and their sons "shut down and move down here," Vicki Belleman said. "We had a great crew for the ice storm."

"I went 65 hours in one week," Mike Belleman said.

Newmanstown ambulance also offers CPR classes for the public, the next of which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday.

For more information about the class or volunteering, call (610) 589-5900.

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