Montclair Ambulance Unit celebrates 70 years of service
No call is too big or small for the Montclair Ambulance Unit. Whether it’s responding to a natural disaster or participating in a dunk contest at the Walnut Street Fair, the unit is dedicated to showing up for the residents of Montclair.
Now, ambulance workers are depending on Montclairians to show up for them for their spring fund-raising effort. Since 1953, the Montclair Ambulance Unit has operated as a nonprofit organization and relies on donations and grants to fund a large portion of its operating expenses.
New Jersey is one of 37 states that do not classify emergency medical services as an essential service, said U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat who represents New Jersey’s Third District. Ambulance units like Montclair’s are not granted access to federal and state funding. By law, Montclair does not have to provide emergency medical services.
“Back in the day everybody donated to the ambulance,” said Kristen Ryan, director of development. “Now it’s fewer and it's harder to get new families who have moved into town, so we're working a lot on education.”
Last year, the ambulance unit responded to 3,769 calls and this year the number is projected to increase by 20%. Despite responding to an average of 11 calls a day, unit members still find time to engage in the community and raise awareness about the work they do.
“What we feel is one of our other responsibilities is education, and CPR classes,”
Deputy Chief Michael Craig said. He and his team teach residents how to respond to active shooter threats and how to stop bleeding.
“We do ambulance visits with kids so when people do come to the ambulance or have to call an ambulance, they feel a little bit more comfortable,” Craig said. “It's all about the patient.”
Unit members are proud that they adapt even as the community does. When the Montclair Ambulance Unit answered its first call in June 1953, the all-white team consisted of two women and nearly 20 men. Now, the unit is more than 30% female with various ethnic backgrounds and orientations.
Originally, the Montclair Ambulance Unit was a volunteer agency and certified professionals offered their services to the township. Today, the unit has more than 40 paid staff members.
Although the unit no longer operates as a volunteer agency, it still supports surrounding volunteer agencies by lending out equipment, like its SimMan, a patient simulator that is used for training about various conditions.
“We have a great deal of reverence for volunteerism and the volunteers who founded our agency,” Ryan said.
The Montclair Ambulance Unit is passionate about evolving with the needs of the time. “We're also seeing a huge spike in mental health,” Craig said. Though all EMTs have some training in dealing with mental health crises, the Montclair unit is requiring training for its staff to become specialized in responding to mental health calls.
As reports of gun violence rise across the country, EMTs are also receiving targeted training in what they call “tactical casualty care.” Recently, the unit partnered with Montclair State University to do an active shooter drill, which allowed both students and EMTs to practice what to do in such situations.
As new situations arise, so do new expenses. Thanks to a grant, the unit was able to purchase 10 bulletproof vests that also contain necessary medical supplies for when the EMTs are responding to an active shooter.
When the pandemic descended, staff worked with adjusted schedules and sometimes longer hours to avoid contracting COVID-19 or to stand in for employees who were exposed to the virus.This personal protective equipment and overtime pay cost money. During the pandemic, not only did the unit continue to respond to calls but it also helped smaller units that were low on staff and worked with testing sites and the Department of Health to track the number of patients who contracted the virus. “Our staff took that extra step to be above and beyond during that time,” Craig said.
The Montclair Ambulance Unit is continuously looking for donations from residents so it can continue to quickly respond to emergencies throughout town. One ambulance costs $350,000 while a stretcher costs $65,000. “You donate a dollar, you save a life,” Craig said.
The Montclair Ambulance Unit urges residents to respond to its spring mailer envelopes with donations or visit them at montclairems.org to donate.
“This is the best gig, the best job in the world.” said Ryan, who also works as a volunteer EMT for other units. “It's different every day. It's different every hour. We never know what we're going to walk into. We think on our feet. We support each other and we’re there for each other.”