After 68 years, Pennington First Aid Squad will make its last ride

A retired Pennington First Aid Squad member announced via Facebook over the weekend that he received a notice that as of March 1, 2023, the squad would be closing its doors due to a lack of volunteers. 

The Pennington First Aid Squad, first organized in 1954, was sponsored by the Pennington American Legion, according to their website. Charles Bell, the squad’s first captain, conceived the idea to form the squad after he conducted surveys with squads from neighboring towns. Those towns reported that by sending ambulances to Pennington, the towns were putting their own ambulances out of service for their residents. Bell found that Pennington would benefit from having its own squad as its population and increasing traffic required a local squad to handle emergencies quickly and efficiently.

Bell and 40 other individuals completed the Standard and Advanced First Aid Courses sponsored by the American National Red Cross and became the squad’s Charter Members. 

On November 3, 1954, the squad answered its first call with a crew including Frank Parsons, Bill Birkhead, and Dave Urban. The team transported Mrs. Ditmars from the McCulty Nursing Home to her residence at 11 East Franklin Avenue in Pennington. 

PFAS’s first 1952 Packard ambulance circa 1961. Photo courtesy www.penningtonfirstaid.org

Over the next twelve years, the squad answered more than 1,700 calls per year. Now, according to their website, the squad answers about 1,100 calls per year. The service provided by the squad includes accidents, emergency illness, maternity cases, transportation of the ill and infirm, response to major fires to assist the Pennington Fire Company, and practice drills with neighboring squads and local firemen. 

“It is with deep remorse that I announce that I was informed as of March 1 2023 the Pennington First Aid Squad will be closing its doors due to a lack of volunteers,” said retired squad member, Daniel Boone. “Thank you to all who served over the last 68 years. You will be missed.”

Boone retired from the squad in 2017 after 26 years of service.

During the public comment period of September’s Pennington Borough Council Meeting, Naomi McCarty, President of Pennington First Aid Squad spoke on the status of their emergency services and made the council aware of issues the squad was facing.

“Currently, staffing is one of the biggest issues,” said McCarty, “and everybody is running thin.”

“The Fire Commissioner of Hopewell Township is looking into farming out the EMS services of the Valley to a private organization and that private organization will take first call,” explained McCarty. “Volunteers will go down and we will lose volunteers because they will not be needed on a regular basis”

McCarty recommended to the Commissioners that the First Aid Squad could hire its own staff to fill in some of the gaps. That would help free up some of the fire staff that has been used to supplement services throughout the valley so that they can have people be more active to do the fire inspections, according to McCarty.

“I just wanted people to know that COVID-19 did a real number on people, especially in the area of first responders,”said McCarty. We lost the ability to train people and people did not want to participate due to Covid. We have high school and college students volunteering and we are always looking for more. Please encourage people to volunteer.”

At the September meeting, Council member Kit Chandler asked McCary if volunteer numbers increase, would the commissioners change direction on their decision? McCarty stated that she is not aware of any parameters that have been set.

“We are working with a group of about 20 active volunteers,” said McCarty. “There is a small group including myself that is providing a large amount of volunteer time. We would prefer not to go paid and the community has been wonderful in supporting the volunteer service. 

“We love the nature of the service that we provide,” stated McCarty. “We try to keep it so that it is a free service to the community. If we hire people we would have to do billing for services.”

Council member, Chico Marciante asked what would happen with dispatch if the Commissioners decide to go with Capital Health. McCarty replied that she assumes the fire commissioners can only afford one ambulance. 

“That is one of our concerns,” stated McCarty. ”How is that one ambulance going to service Hopewell, Titusville, and Pennington?”

“It is very complex and the fire commissioners will have to sit down and figure it out,” said McCarty.

Now, it seems, no solution could be found and the squad will close its doors after 68 years in service to the community of Pennington.

In the featured photo, courtesy of www.penningtonfirstaid.org, Julie Aberger and Kirk Schmitt, the only PFAS members who are still active with PFAS and responded to New York on 911. Behind them is 151-2, the ambulance that responded with 6 PFAS members (Leo Castenada, Kirk Schmitt, Zay Risinger, Steve Friedman, Eldrid Truelove, and Julianna Aberger) to lower Manhattan on 911.

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