NEWARK, N.J.-- For decades, the volunteers at the Dunellen Rescue Squad have helped save countless lives in the small borough -- all free of charge.
But that tradition could be in danger after the organization experienced a sharp drop in membership and now is considering charging for calls to generate revenue for paid positions within the squad.
People take for granted that the service will be provided, said Susan Connolly, the squad president.
The squad s membership recently dwindled to 20 people -- a number that Connolly said stretches its resources too thin at times. Without additional volunteers for driver and emergency medical technician, or EMT, positions, the squad may have to contract to fill times when volunteers are unavailable, said Elaine Andrecovich, the group s spokeswoman.
Dunellen residents may have to pay $400 to $1,600 for each ambulance call, Connolly said.
The squad is still looking for additional members to avoid the move to paid services, Connolly said. Candidates should be at least 14 years old and ideally live near the squad s headquarters, she said. Teens are ranked as cadets and move up in responsibility and position as they gain more experience and training.
Connolly said the squad needs at least two EMTs on the ambulance rig for each call. Training to become a certified EMT takes approximately 120 hours, said Connolly, who has been an EMT for seven years and works for the squad from 12 to 20 hours a week.
I don t think people know it doesn t take a lot of time to contribute, she said.
At the squad s home on North Avenue, the members maintain two ambulances for the approximately 300 calls they receive each year, Connolly said. The squad responds to emergencies every night from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The organization operates on a shoestring budget funded by an annual donation drive and a monetary gift from the town, she said. The squad was started in April 1933 by members of the local fire department and the first meeting attracted 13 people who immediately began responding to calls, said Andrecovich.
At the time, more people were moving from cities to suburbs like Dunellen and local residents saw the need for the squad, Andrecovich said.
In its first year, the fledgling group reported to 37 emergencies in Dunellen and surrounding towns. A year later, the squad was the only rescue organization that saved people from the luxury liner S.S. Morro Castle, which burst into flames and killed more than 100 passengers, Andrecovich said. Towns nearby did not have EMTs.
The current members hope to keep the tradition of the squad alive.
I get personal satisfaction from helping people, Connolly said. You are always helping somebody.For more information on the Dunellen Rescue Squad, visit www.dunellen.com/rescuesquad.html. Sharon Adarlo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (732) 404-8081.