“I am a volunteer. With that word comes different meanings for different people,” said Robert Liccione, captain of the .
For most, volunteering means giving of yourself to help others. For first aid squad members, that means helping people when they are most vulnerable.
“Once you get started, there’s pride in helping out your community,” he said.
Liccione and squad president James Goldstein hope the desire to help others and community pride will help draw more members to the squad, which recently renewed its ongoing call for new members.
Goldstein said the squad has 48 members, and they take shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. weeknights and around the clock on the weekends. Quality Medical Transport covers Barnegat on weekdays.
“We handle everything from a Band-Aid to calls for a stroke,” Goldstein said, with an average response time of less than four minutes and an average of nearly 108 calls per month – 1,288 last year, according to the squad’s website. “We put in more than 16,000 manhours last year,” he said.
“Our job is not to cure the patient or diagnose their ‘medical emergency,’ that's the doctors’ job,” Liccione said. “Our responsibility is to get the patient to the hospital in the same or better condition than when we found them; to do that is the most rewarding about volunteering with the Barnegat First Aid Squad.”
The squad has been in existence since 1944, when it was started as a unit of the American Red Cross. The squad answered 51 calls the first year – fewer than it answered in February, the squad’s website said. From those early beginnings, it went through a couple of transformations before being incorporated in 1955. In the early years, the squad primarily handled maternity calls, illnesses and broken bones. There were few cars then, so auto accidents were few compared with today, the squad’s site notes. The squad’s 14 members manned its two ambulances.
Today, the squad has four ambulances and two first responder vehicles, allowing faster response times. The vehicles are rigged with computers that have files on patients the squad has assisted, so if they return to help someone again, they can pull up the squad’s records quickly to know about allergies or other conditions —eliminating the need for extensive questions and enabling them to get right down to the business of stabilizing a patient, Goldstein said.
Member who join have used it as a way to find out if they like the medical field. Liccione said one young man, who began volunteering when he was in high school, recently graduated from Rider University with a degree in neuroscience and is working on his medical degree at the New York College of Medicine on Long Island.
“When he comes home for the weekend he still volunteers and rides,” Liccione said. “This is just more proof that volunteering means more to our members than just something to fill their spare time. These members are committed in their community no matter how much they have going on in their personal lives.”
Another member, who joined the squad after coming to the United States from Cuba, was so inspired by his time with the squad that he started an ambulance transport service in North Jersey, Liccione said.
“You get out of it what you put into it,” he said.
The Barnegat squad offers its members free training – both for the initial training and for recertifications. The recertification training is a partnership with Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center, which must give a certain amount of free training to maintain its charter as a Level 1 trauma center, Liccione said. With the state fund that had been established to reimburse first aid volunteers for the cost of their training – Liccione said it used to cost about $550 but the price has more than doubled to $1,200 – now gone, scooped up to fill a budget gap under former Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration, getting EMS training at no cost is a tremendous benefit, he noted. New members also receive free uniforms.
“A lot of the time you don’t get thanked for what you do,” he said, noting that the people they are dealing with – especially family members – are in a state of distress and understandably focused on their loved one. “Later on you might see someone and have them recognize you and thank you for what you did to help them at their time of need.”
The reward, he said, is in knowing he’s helping people at such a critical time.
“Anyone can be a hero,” said Goldstein, the squad’s president. “To be consistently concerned is much more difficult.”
“There is nothing to be more proud of than to be part of this squad,” Liccione said.
Liccione said those interested in joining the squad – and first aid training is not required; new members will be trained – can contact the squad by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 609-698-7868. Applications can be downloaded from the squad’s website, www.squad11.org.