NJ rescue squad seeks 2 dozen volunteers or risks staffing level failures

The organization lost 18 volunteers who either left the squad to pursue jobs, attend college or relocated


Caroline Fassett
NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

A Hunterdon County volunteer organization that answers the call for help is sending out a call of its own.

The Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad is searching for at least two dozen or more volunteers to join the team, which has responded to emergency situations occurring in Clinton, Clinton Township, Lebanon Borough and parts of Franklin Township and Union Township since 1968.

The squad currently has around 80 members, eight of whom are full-time paid staff members, and around two dozen of whom are part-time paid staff members. (Photo/Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad)
The squad currently has around 80 members, eight of whom are full-time paid staff members, and around two dozen of whom are part-time paid staff members. (Photo/Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad)

The organization also responds to daytime emergency situations occurring in Hampton Borough, Glen Gardner, High Bridge Borough, Tewksbury Township, Bethlehem Township and Somerville.

According to Chief Frank P. Setnicky, if roughly 24 individuals do not volunteer for the organization come next fall, the squad will need to increase its number of paid Emergency Medical Technicians to maintain necessary staffing levels.

While Setnicky expressed his doubt that local municipalities would raise taxes in order to acquire funding for the organization, he said that adding more salaries to the squad will “be at a cost to somebody.”

“We want to stay a volunteer agency; we don’t want to become an all-paid agency," Setnicky said.

The squad currently has around 80 members, eight of whom are full-time paid staff members, and around two dozen of whom are part-time paid staff members.

While the squad is expected to merge with High Bridge Emergency Squad on July 1, Setnicky said that the need for more volunteers “will still be there.”

“(The merger) will help but not alleviate the continued need,” Setnicky said.

This past fall, the organization lost 18 volunteers who either left the squad to pursue jobs, attend college or relocated out of the Hunterdon community. Despite its decreased membership, in 2019 the Squad responded to 4,119 calls -- over 500 more than the total number received by the team in 2018, and 1,000 more than in 2017.

According to Setnicky, the rise in call volume is largely explained by the country’s aging population.

“All over, baby boomers are getting old," Setnicky said. "We have a big influx in a certain type of respiratory calls ... But then we also have the nursing homes and the older population in Clinton and surrounding areas that, yeah, they’re going to get sick.”

Recognizing the rising need for the squad throughout Hunterdon County, Setnicky encouraged all interested individuals to apply to become a volunteer for the organization. Volunteers are needed in all four categories of the squad, including in the positions of EMT, rescue associate, water rescue associate, and cadet.

To join the team, all volunteers must complete approximately three months of free training, which entails a 16-hour per week commitment to educational classes and hands-on instruction -- including ride alongs in the ambulance.

Prior medical or emergency experience is not necessary, which enabled volunteers like EMT Mark Black, a full time scientist and medical writer, to join the squad roughly one year ago.

“I know all the medical terms and I can write it all correctly ... (but) I haven’t looked after patients. They (squad) said, ‘No problem, we’ll teach you how to do it,’” Black said.

Black praised the training he received through the squad, stating that he was “never left out to dry.”

“They’ll give you all the lecture materials but also, what I think they do very well here, are accurate scenarios. So you can come in with nothing, and then you’re trained," Black said. “At the end, you still need a lot more experience, but they give you everything you need to function as a team member, and they always send you out with an experienced team leader ... You’re never left alone."

Echoing Black, fellow EMT Carol Dorf emphasized that every squad member “wants you to succeed.”

“I know when I was going through an EMT class, some of the members here would come in on a Sunday afternoon to work with me, or come in at night,” Dorf said. “Everyone supports you, and they are there to teach you all the way through.”

Dorf joined squad approximately three years ago after her children left for college.

“I found out I had some more spare time, and it was time to do something that I wanted to do. I always did something for everyone else; this was something for me. Because you do get a lot of out of it for yourself," Dorf said.

In detailing one of her more valued experiences of volunteering for CFARS, Dorf underscored the immense gratitude she has received from servicing the Hunterdon community.

“A 50-something year old guy, a bigger guy, was really sick. And we pick him up and take him to the hospital, and he’s crying because he’s in so much pain ... And it’s his most vulnerable moment," Dorf said. “And you’re there, and you’re all he’s got to talk to and express how he feels, and he’s so grateful that you’re there to be there with him.

“To hold their hand, wipe their tears, or whatever they need ... it means a lot to (the people we help). And you walk away and you feel good that you were there for that person,” Dorf added.

While the squad typically does not turn away interested volunteers unless they fail their physical, background or drug examinations, Black said that ideal candidates for the squad are individuals who are “able to relate to people.”

“You’re called a medical technician, but it’s more about communicating with that person, and that’s the skill you learn, or hopefully you’re good at,” Black said. “You come into somebody’s house wearing a dark uniform, and sometimes you’re going to look scary. So you got to get down on their level, talk to them and listen to what’s going on."

Dorf added that the best volunteers are compassionate, a trait that she said largely explains the squad’s evenly balanced male-to-female ratio.

“It’s compassion. Listening, talking, being that support for that patient, are skills that anybody, male or female, can possess," Dorf said.

In response to why individuals should consider volunteering for the squad, Dorf emphasized that members both give back to and become more immersed in the Hunterdon community as a result of joining the squad.

“Not only do we run calls, but we do stand by events where you are really in the community. Whether it’s the parades, or the rubber duckie race, or Sprintin’ Clinton, we stand by at all of them,” Dorf said.

Setnicky, a squad member for the past 33 years, described the squad as a valuable addition to any individual’s day-to-day routine.

“You can use it at any place in your life. It’ll help you out at home or in your other job. A lot of people meet friends and they have new lifetime friends," Setnicky said.

Black said the squad has been a “quite fulfilling” experience for him -- even throughout its less eventful moments.

“If you have your normal office job where you’re on the phone and computer all day, you come here, and you’re interacting with people. And for that small window, you might be very important to their life,” Black said. "But you’re not always saving someone’s life or pounding on their chest; you might just be holding their hand or giving them some comfort or getting them to the hospital. But it feels good.”

Individuals interested in learning more about or volunteering for the Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad can visit http://joinclintonems.com/.

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©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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