The capabilities of the all-volunteer Summit First Aid Squad were put to the test by Superstorm Sandy and the nor’easter that followed just onw week later. Once again, the squad passed the test with flying colors.
In advance of the storm, the squads headquarters was prepared and secured for rain and high winds. Several years ago, the squad installed a generator large enough to power the entire building to ensure that we could adequately communicate and respond during power outages. The generator was serviced, tested, and prepared for extended operation prior to the storm. The property was cleared of outside fixtures and debris that might become wind driven projectiles. Squad Captain Kari Phair and several squad lieutenants participated in on-going Emergency Response meetings with City officials. Kari then remained at the City’s Emergency Operations Center during the storm.
While the squad had been well prepared for Hurricane Irene last year, there were still a few lessons learned from that storm that helped this year’s effort. Most notable were the loss of power to the homes of so many of our members and the resulting communications issues along with the difficulty traveling to the squad building due to numerous downed trees and wires.
As a result, plans included soliciting members to volunteer for extra crew assignments at the building. Food and living supplies were gathered to accommodate volunteers staying at the building for extended periods. For 11 days, two 12-hour operational periods were each staffed with three full ambulance crews, a primary response crew and two back-up crews. The crews were required to respond from the building over night, necessitating bunking on the floors and couches since the squad does not have sleeping facilities. Although volunteers often respond to emergencies from their homes, the potential hazard of the immediate storm dictated safe responses from the squad building.
On the night of the storm, ambulances were parked backwards in the garages to minimize damage in the event wind blew in the garage doors. The Squad building remained on generator power for eight consecutive days. After utility power was restored for a few hours, it was lost again and the generator powered up with no trouble for an additional three days. During that time, the squad building also served as a warming and charging station for the many members with no power at home. Several battery chargers were set up with spare radio batteries to allow members to keep their squad radios working. A large dry erase board was continually updated with the street closures in town; at one point with more than 50.
During the next 10 days, the squad responded to 108 emergency calls; more than double the normal call volume. We often had two ambulances (and crews) responding simultaneously, and sometimes three. Several calls were related to Carbon Monoxide (CO) exposure, usually from portable generators. There were also a few falls that may have been the result of poor lighting in homes with no power and at least one call to assist a resident using in-home oxygen. But, the bulk of the calls were typical medical or trauma emergencies.
The Squads tasks were not limited to Summit. On Sunday night, before the storm was due to hit, squad members responded with two ambulances to help evacuate Hoboken University Medical Center. After a request from the State Police, the Squad also assembled a crew for deployment to southern New Jersey, although that request was withdrawn after 30 ambulances from Pennsylvania were made available.
During the second week of power outages, normal call volumes returned, although additional volunteers continued to monitor calls to respond from their homes as necessary. Just last night, the squad answered three simultaneous emergency calls with off duty members responding to cover the 2nd and 3rd ambulance.
Squad Captain Kari Phair was very complimentary to all of the members who served during the storm and it’s aftermath; 62 in all. But, most members will be quick to point out that it was the efforts of the long time Squad Captain that really made the plan come together. Kari leads by example. Her tireless dedication has served not only the squad, but the many whom we serve as well.
After eight years as Captain, Kari Phair will take a much deserved break from that role next year and I've been asked to replace her. Filling her shoes will be no small task. But, with the help of our dedicated volunteers, I'm looking forward to another successful year.
The all volunteer First Aid Squad is always looking for new members to join its ranks. All needed training, uniforms and equipment is provided. For information, please call (908) 277-9479, or visit their web site at: www.summitems.org.
John Staunton, a long time member of the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad, is a past President and Captain, and currently serves as Publicity Director and Fund Drive Chair.