On a cool autumn evening Wednesday, the Kendall Park First Aid and Rescue Squad unveiled much needed renovations to their facility on New Road, however the improvements underscored the fact that all three township EMS squads need help.
The 100 percent volunteer Kendall Park, Monmouth Junction and Kingston first aid squads are facing difficulties recruiting new members to provide help when South Brunswick residents need it most. With new requirements from the state, EMS volunteers must take a training course costing between $1,200 to $1,500, up from the previous cost of $500, in addition to 200 to 300 hours of course time.
"It's been difficult finding new people to join," said Marty Haller, of the Monmouth Junction First Aid squad. "The economy is affecting our daytime volunteers. Many people have two jobs. We used to have husbands and wives volunteering, but now most married couples both work."
During the daytime hours, the township has a paid crew to cover Monmouth Junction and Kingston from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and to provide backup for the Kendall Park daytime crew. Salaries and supplies for the daytime crew are paid through insurance billing, Haller said.
Currently, Kendall Park has 45 volunteers, Monmouth Junction has 35, and Kingston has about 12. Kendall Park alone responded to nearly 1,800 calls in the last year, providing emergency medical service to Franklin Park, Griggstown, Little Rocky Hill and areas in Monmouth Junction and Somerset, in addition to Kendall Park itself.
"The expectancy of a volunteer is usually about five years on the squad before they move on, so it's a constant revitalization where people who drop off have to be replaced," Haller said. "But now people are dropping off faster than we can replace them."
The squads rely on fundraising drives each year from residents to fund the operating costs. Haller said the township also donates $45,000 to each squad, however the astronomical expenses for insurance, supplies and maintenance for the ambulances means donations are always in desperate need. But most disconcerting to those who volunteer their time to serve the township are the staffing issues.
"We used to rely on people who didn't work during the day, but that's evaporating," said Rich Goselin, of the Kendall Park squad. "We have guys who are doing 500 calls a year. It's a big commitment. What it comes down to is an understanding that we accept whatever people can provide. This is different than my job and what I do during the day. It's an opportunity to give back and it's more fulfilling."
Goselin said the understaffed squads try to respond to each call within 10 minutes, but when multiple calls come in close proximity the squads enter into a mutual aid situation with crews from surrounding areas like Monroe Township. He estimated it would cost about $130,000 a year for one daytime crew. Monroe has about five crews, with an operating cost of about $3 million per year.
"We can never have enough resources," said Bill Kennedy of the Kendall Park squad. "We're all volunteers and we have no ability to (collect funds through) tax. We get wonderful residential support, but it costs us $90 just for one call."
The average cost for an emergency requiring Basic Life Support runs $700, while the cost for Advanced Life Support runs $1,400. Goselin said the squads need any assistance they can get, even from those who aren't interested in responding to calls. Help is also needed from volunteers for bookkeeping, public relations and other various tasks.
Kendall Park is also beginning a capital campaign to help pay for the estimated $250,000 renovations to the New Road facility. The renovations included a roof replacement due to leaking that regularly flooded the ambulance bay, reconfigured bay doors allowing larger vehicles to fit inside, a small room to allow for cots so volunteers can sleep when serving during overnight hours and emergencies, and modern bathrooms with a shower so volunteers can reduce risk when exposed to blood borne pathogens.
The project was largely benefitted by rate reductions from Mike Soriano of Cornerstone Architects and Wayne Keller of S&K Construction to renovate the building. Goselin also praised Magyar Community Bank for their assistance with financing.
"We need to fundraise to pay for this but it can't be at the expense of our normal fundraising for resources," he said. "We're hoping for sponsorships and for businesses to help us out."
As township and first aid officials cut the ribbon in front of the new bay doors, Goselin said those who volunteer their time for South Brunswick now need help from the residents they protect during their darkest hours.
"This building is more than just a building, it's a home for our members. Families volunteer here. Couples have met here, gotten married and their children are now serving," Goselin said.
"You count on us everyday for your emergency medical services. Now we're counting on you."
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