The Pennington First Aid Squad, a vital part of the community for 68 years, closed its doors on March 1, 2023. Founded by community members who believed in the importance of community effort and support in times of need, the Squad provided around-the-clock free emergency response. In a recent interview with MercerMe, Naomi McCarty, the final president of the Squad, reflected on its history. MercerMe thanks her and all those involved for their herculean service to the community over the years.
McCarty, a nurse, joined the Pennington First Aid Squad more than 20 years ago at the encouragement of her friend and neighbor Jessie Bailey, who had been a member of the Squad for many years. She explained that volunteers of the Squad came from all walks of life, including scientists, health professionals, students, homemakers, and generations of families. Many lived locally, and those who lived farther would wait for calls overnight in the Squad’s bunk room or their shift-mates’ homes so they could ride together for a call.
The Pennington First Aid Squad made a significant impact on the community and had a presence in the community at events like Pennington Day and Memorial Day parades. The organization also served as a site for EMT training from 1998 to 2019, graduating more than 600 students from ages 16 to 83, and was one training site out of only about 40 in the State.
McCarty explained that first responders have a tremendous responsibility to assess emergency situations efficiently, use resources wisely, and ensure the patients’ safety. The Squad was instrumental in helping patients get to the hospital of their choice.
Much of the passion McCarty and other Squad members felt, she said, was the joy of working well together. Success was a team effort, she explained, and the local fire companies and police departments served as excellent emergency responder partners .The Squad knew they could count on the Pennington Fire Company for some heavy lifting. McCarty recalled, “One time we had a patient in labor in the middle of a blizzard and the fire company shoveled so we could get the patient out without walking in the high snow. It’s nice seeing people working together for the common good.”
In recent years, the Squad experienced drastic reductions in volunteerism, dwindling down to ten volunteers. And COVID made it worse.
“COVID really did a number on us,” McCarty said.’ It totally stopped the flow of volunteers – no more classes, so no new people coming in and then a lot of people had health issues and so they were not able to ride during COVID. It’s been hard to recoup after that — many of those teaching and volunteering did not come back, so you had to start all new.”
The loss of this institution will certainly be felt in the community. “The Squad itself is very sad,” said McCarty, “This has been such a part of our lives and many of the ones who are still riding [the ambulance] have been around for quite a while. It’s going to be a huge loss.”
Right now, McCarty and other volunteers are cleaning out the Squad building and remembering what it is like to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep. They also continue to be grateful for the tremendous amount of community support.
“The community as a whole has been so supportive of the service financially — we’ve been able to meet the budget,” said McCarty. “It speaks so well of the organization itself. We want to thank the community for its support over the years for making it financially sound so we could provide services to the community at the level that we did.”
And most importantly, McCarty extended thanks to the entire community: “Thank you to the amazing commitment of the individuals involved that have given their time to the Squad, not only doing calls, but in administration and oversight – and accepting and supporting the new members as they come in. And being supportive of each other through the years.”
Thank you, Pennington First Aid Squad.
In the featured photo, Squad members and guests enjoyed the first recognition dinner since COVID hit, at Villa Francesco on July 28, 2022.
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