It takes both money and members to keep the Westfield Volunteer Rescue Squad running, said its president Reid Edles, who has dedicated more than the past two-and-a-half decades to serving the people of Westfield and beyond by volunteering on the squad.
Edles debunked a couple of long-standing myths about the squad, now in its 62nd year of providing emergency medical services to Westfield and neighboring communities. First, Edles noted, the squad is funded entirely through tax-deductible donations; it is not subsidized by the government or taxpayer dollars. Secondly, all members are volunteers who respond to traumatic and medical emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
The squad prides itself on its ability to be on the scene of an emergency anywhere in Westfield within three minutes, noted fund drive chairwoman Lynn Feldman.
To bolster its fundraising efforts, the squad recently mailed 13,000 letters to homes and businesses in town to assist in meeting its 2012 goal.
"At this point in time, fewer than 20 percent of Westfield residents have responded to our previous requests for donations in order to continue providing our vital, free-of-charge emergency medical services to the community," the letter states.
Edles explained that during Superstorm Sandy volunteers "felt the pain" of residents as the squad was also without power. But that didn't stop the crew from responding to the near-100 calls for help that came through in the aftermath of the storm. During that stretch, one of the generators powering the Watterson Street building burned out and the squad found itself in the position of borrowing one from the Westfield Fire Department. The squad is currently in the market for two natural gas generators, at an estimated cost of $25,000, to power the building in the event of a similar catastrophe. A new ambulance is also needed, said Edles, who ballparked the price at around $170,000.
"When we go out on a call, we want residents to know that we have the finest equipment," said Edles.
Even with state-of-the-art apparatus, the squad would be useless without its volunteers, Edles and Feldman agreed and noted that new members are always welcome.
Recent addition to the squad Vito Zuna of Elizabeth not only enjoys volunteering but also said he regrets not joining sooner.
"In the short time I've been here, I've already learned so much," said Zuna, who volunteers for a four-hour shift once a week. Having just completed a master's degree in the medical field, Zuna said being a member of the squad gives him the practical, hands-on experience he couldn't learn in any classroom.
Paula Cobos, who has been with the squad for two years, agreed. The volunteer is hoping to become a physician's assistant.
"This really keeps you on your toes and gives you a greater appreciation for all the pre-hospital interventions that are performed so you're seeing things on the other side," she said.
Making her experience that much more rewarding has been the warm welcome she received from the existing crew.
"Everyone here has something to teach you," said Cobos. "They welcome you with open arms. They're very good teachers."
To learn more about the squad, its mission or becoming a new volunteer member, call 908-233-2500. To make a donation, send a contribution to 335 Watterson St. Westfield, NJ 07090.