Pa. ambulance service members reflect on 30-year milestone
Plum EMS has grown from a one-ambulance operation to running seven vehicles with dozens of personnel
The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
PLUM, Pa. — An ambulance company in one of Allegheny County's largest boroughs has reached a milestone.
Plum EMS turns 30 this month.
Tom Izydore, retired paramedic and current board member, said he is excited the company reached this moment, and recalled how it all started.
"As far as things that we've done that would be achievements," Izydore said. "I think the first achievement is the fact that we got this service started, and we've had the success that we've had to this point. That is due to a lot of hard work by a lot of really good people.
"We have never missed a shift to supply service to the community since we've been in operation. We've always had a truck that was ready to go out."
The first shift was on March 16, 1991.
Its original home was an office trailer in the borough building parking lot along New Texas Road.
The one-ambulance operation had six full-time medical personnel and a handful of volunteers.
Izydorewas on the first official call.
It was for chest pains felt by a resident in the Regency neighborhood.
"The trip went well," he said. "The patient went to the hospital. We don't get a lot of feedback on patient outcomes. As far as we know it was OK."
A public works garage was later repurposed to safely house the vehicle, equipment and additional staff. The station would respond to between 500 to 700 calls a year for the first few years.
"Our call volume was relatively low," said Carlos Bontreras, board treasurer and one of the original volunteer paramedics. "We had equipment. Some of it was new. Some of it wasn't, but we had everything we needed and we did very well ... This was new ground for a lot of us. We were learning the business end of things every day. I think we're still learning the business end of things."
Plum ambulance services came from Unity and Holiday Park volunteer fire departments for a couple decades prior to the EMS' founding.
Concerns about response time and increased training were some of the driving forces behind the change.
"Requirements were becoming a little more stringent as far as paramedics and EMT's education," said board member and retired paramedic Bob Moran. "The volunteers weren't able to get out as much because of the fact that they were working.
"It was becoming more difficult (to respond to emergencies). It wasn't always staffed. The drive was to try and find a way to make a full-time department and go paid within the borough. It was definitely an opportunity to provide the community with coverage and an ambulance without interruption.
Plum EMS current
As more and more housing developments were built in the borough and population grew, so did the need to expand the ambulance service
EMS moved from New Texas Road in 2015 to what is called the Al Franci Emergency Services Building.
It is named after the former mayor. He and council members Al Flickinger and Stan Caraher were instrumental in the founding of the company along with Moran.
There was a significant call volume increase as crews were settling in at the new station.
"We saw a big jump in demand for our services," Izydore said. "We were looking at 3,000 calls for service and transported a little over 2,000 people those couple years."
It now has four ambulances, two rescue vehicles and a wheelchair van in a large three-bay garage of the station's Old Mine Road location.
Operations director Brian Maloney, who has been with the company for about five years, said the current staff includes 16 full-time responders including eight paramedics, seven EMTs and a van driver, as well as about 30 part-timers.
Bontreras said it costs about $1.5 million a year to keep the EMS station operating. He could not recall how much it cost to start the company.
Administrative director Joe Festa has been with Plum EMS the past 21 years. He joined during his senior year at Plum High School.
"It's been a fun experience, the whole change over and organization," Festa said. "When I started out I was a lot younger and a lot more immature. Coming into this was intimidating. It was fun to go from driving a wheelchair van to getting on ambulances and become more administration. This organization has helped me grow as a person and developed me into what I am today."
Plum EMS is the lead company during the US Open at the Oakmont Country Club.
It has coordinated with various agencies to ensure safety at the men's, women's and amateur opens.
"We're not a real big service, and yet we've taken on huge responsibilities," Izydore said. "We were just a couple years old when the first US Open was in Oakmont back in 1994. We were in charge of the EMS for that event, and fortunately it was very successful. They had an incredible heatwave that year."
Maloney said about 40,000 people attend the pro events, and a significantly lesser crowd gathers for the amateur. The 2016 men's open was Maloney's first major event with Plum EMS. He was formally working for Elizabeth Township at the time, but saw an opportunity to help.
He worked as a bike medic to cover more ground quicker and get some exercise.
"I love to cycle and do mountain biking, so I could do this," Maloney said. "Little did I know how hilly the Oakmont Country Club was. With 40,000 people, trying to ride around on top of that was one of the most excruciating experiences of my life, physically demanding.
"I did it as almost as an independent contractor, but I functioned under Plum EMS. Almost a year later I ended up joining them."
All EMS officials said they have enjoyed tremendous community support throughout the decades, and look forward to the company serving residents and others the next 30 years.
Plum serves as a mutual aid company for neighboring municipalities as well as provides assistance to Pittsburgh during major events. There are currently no expansion plans for station.
No formal anniversary celebration has been planned due to the pandemic. However, officials plan to have crew luncheons during the separate shifts.
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