The Pennington First Aid Squad in curly text

A Brief History of the Pennington First Aid Squad
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Kirk Schmitt

Compiled by Kirk Schmitt from talks given at the 2004 50th anniversary celebration by Former Captains George W. Vanney, Weldon Bell, Frank Fechter, by Captain Cindy Orlandi, by Richard Bailey, Sr and from other sources.

The First Aid Squad was organized and sponsored by the Pennington American Legion in the summer of 1954. The idea was conceived by Charles Bell, who became the squad's first captain. Derrick Hoagland, the American Legion Commander at the time, his successor, William Birkhead, along with Bell deserve a great deal of credit for this American Legion project which has proven to be a very successful one.

In the June of 1954, a public forum had been held to discuss forming an ambulance squad in Pennington. Some people questioned Pennington's need for an ambulance when the neighboring towns of Hopewell and Titusville each had one. Captain Bell conducted several surveys with the neighboring squads which were serving the Pennington area at the time. He found with each passing year, the neighboring towns were sending their ambulances more and more to the Pennington area, thus placing their ambulances out of service for the sake of Pennington. The American Legion spent a great deal of time and effort writing and circulating letters containing this information to the public and borough officials, explaining that the ever increasing traffic and population required a local squad to handle emergencies quickly and efficiently.

In the meantime, Captain Bell and 40 individuals, who became the Charter Members, completed the Standard and Advanced First Aid Courses sponsored by the American National Red Cross. Captain Bell walked the streets of Pennington in search of a dispatcher and finally obtained Mr. Charles Heath, a former Syracuse and Pennington police officer. Mr. Heath was assisted by Miss Reba Blackwell and Mr. Joseph McVeigh of the Pennington Quality Market. The squad members designated on duty were to be dispatched by telephone by Mr. Heath, with the assistance of the local telephone operator.

Charter Members Pennington Post 413 American Legion First Aid Squad

Grace Barnhart Thomas Cooper Paul Kuhl II Freda Rehork
Bill Barnhart John Dean, Jr. Carl Lauricella Jesse Scarborough
Fred Barrett Calvin Downs John McVeigh Fred Schreck
Charles Bell Anthony Genovese Joseph McVeigh Charles Schuchardt
William Berkhead Charles Heath Rosemary McVeigh Mary Steiner
Reba Blackwell Joseph Hicks Ruth Miller Joseph Sweiss
Thomas Blackwell Richard Hillman Marilyn Mitcher David Urban
Randolph Brokaw Derrick Hoagland William Montagna Robert Van Dyke
Mary Birkhead John Hoffman Frank Parsons Walter Watson
Walter Chatten Joseph Kamrad Jack Post Earl Wilson

After Captain Bell obtained a dispatcher as well as some trained first aid personnel, the American Legion and Auxiliary, with the assistance of Cointreau Ltd., purchased a used 1952 Packard ambulance in October of 1954. Additional funds were collected as a result of a fund drive letter to the area residents and businessmen and by walking the streets of the Boro to canvass for funds. Thus, Captain Bell's concept became a reality and was reported in the local paper, the Hopewell Herald, on November 25, 1954.

1952 Packard ambulance

1952 Packard ambulance. Photo taken in front of the original Squad building around 1961.

The first call was answered on November 3, 1954 when a crew consisting of Frank Parsons, Bill Birkhead, and Dave Urban transported Mrs. Ditmars from the McCulty Nursing Home to her residence at 11 East Franklin Avenue in Pennington. The squad answered over 1700 calls during the first twelve years. It now answers about 1100 calls per year. These calls for service have included accidents, emergency illness, maternity cases, transportation of the ill and infirm, response to major fires to assist the Pennington Fire Company, practice drills with neighboring squads and local firemen. A great number of hours are expended in these services, plus the many hours spent in training, maintenance and cleaning of equipment and organizational work. A typical call takes 1.5 hours from start to finish. Some members now answer over 200 calls per year.

After housing the ambulance in various members' garages without heat or electricity, the American Legion in 1956 erected a building behind the borough hall on a piece of ground leased free from Mr. Paul Cadwallader.

In June of 1959, the First Aid Squad separated from the local American Legion. A new, independent non-profit corporation was formed known as the Pennington First Aid Squad. A certificate of incorporation was signed on December 2, 1959 and became official with the State in 1960. There were six trustees, Edward Kirby, Fred Schreck, Jesse Scarborough, Richard Hillman, Freda Rehork, and Derrick Hoagland. It is noteworthy that the original stated purpose of the Squad was threefold; namely, resucitation of those submerged in water, asphyxiated by gas or other noxious odors, and the victims of other fortuitous [sic] happenings. The squad continued to use the American Legion building after the separation while planning for larger and better quarters to house more needed equipment.

The squad's silent service dispatching system was changed early in 1961. An audible alarm system was instigated to be used in conjunction with the Pennington Fire Company's siren. This change was made for several reasons. The main one being Mr. Heath's health was failing. Also, the audible siren enabled the squad to mobilize faster in time of an emergency. Then, too, this eliminated the need to have members on assigned duty. There was the anticipation of dial telephones which would replace the local telephone operator who had been so co-operative with Mr. Heath in placing his calls quickly. The siren still sounds for first aid calls, but only runs one cycle and is not used at night out of courtesy to our neighbors.

In January of 1962 the present building on Broemel Place was completed and the squad moved its belongings there from the American Legion building. This move was made at an appropriate time, as during this same month, the squad received a most gracious gift from the Pennington Lions Club, a 1962 Chevrolet Greenbier Amblewagon converted into an ambulance. This piece of equipment was primarily used for non-emergency calls, and as a back up unit at auto accidents. The Lions Club raised the money for this project through broom sales and Lion's Roars.

In 1963, the squad traded the used 1952 Packard ambulance in on a used 1963 Cadillac ambulance. Finally, in 1965 the squad obtained a new 1965 Cadillac ambulance by trading in the used 1960 Cadillac ambulance. This progress was made possible through generous support from the area residents and businessmen on the annual fund drives. From this continuous support, the squad has been able to keep, maintain, and improve the necessary equipment to provide efficient ambulance service within the community.

Uniforms and Cadillac Ambulance

1975 uniforms and 1971 PN20 Cadillac ambulance
Back, left to right: Mark Washburn, Bernie Maccarillo, Frank Fechter, Jr, William Loveman
Front, left to right: Vince Scannello, Amy Robelard(?), George Vannoy, Edward Antrobus, Ronald Liuzzo, Elizabeth Spitzer, James Johnson",

In the 60's and 70's, the siren was activated by the New Jersey State Police. The fire company or the first aid squad provided radio operators during first aid calls. Logs of calls from 1971-1976 still exist. The ambulances were able to communicate with the fire apparatus as well as with the ambulances and fire apparatus from neighboring communities. Early ambulances were equipped with tourniquets, bandages, splints, a combination oxygen inhalator and resuscitator, aspirators, extra oxygen demand tanks, sheets, pillows, three stretchers, sand bags, drinking water, and many small items for the comfort of the ill and injured. The ambulances were also outfitted with rescue equipment including a hydraulic tool for prying objects apart, donated by the Pennington Women's Club, crow bars, a fire ax, a small fire extinguisher and heavy rope. Red flares and reflectors, as well as spot lights were carried for use on the highways. Members were required to be 21 years old and to have successfully completed the requirements of the American National Red Cross Advanced first aid training to the injured plus additional training in the use of the ambulances and their equipment. Each year during the winter months, first aid courses were given in the squad house in an effort to obtain new members. These courses were open to the public free of charge.

In 1968, the squad revised its articles of incorporation to better cover its actual first aid duties, to promise that services would be free, to reduce the number of trustees from six to three, and to specify what would happen to the Squad's resources in the event the Squad went out of business.

The Pennington First Aid Squad, a corporation of New Jersey, doth hereby certify that it has changed the purposes for which it was formed to endeavor to answer all first aid and ambulance calls occurring in the Borough of Pennington, and in the Township of Hopewell, and in nearby communities desiring additional aid. The services of this corporation shall be free of charge, and shall be operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks per year. In the event of dissolution of this corporation, the assets shall be distributed only to charitable organizations, provided they enjoy exempt status in accordance with the provisions of 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Auto accidents were more common than any other type of call, so the squad practiced removing victims from actual wrecked automobiles. Tools were hand operated and included a rotary lawn mower blade and hammer for extrication. A skilled first aider could cut open and pop out a jammed door in under 3 minutes, at least before Nader pins made it necessary to use the Jaws of Life to get a door open. In 2007, Motor Vehicle Crashes (MVC) were still about 17% of the Squad's calls; by 2012 this had dropped to 13%. "Victims" are now referred to as patients, but less than 1/2 of the patients involved in MVCs require transport to the hospital by ambulance.

At other sessions the handling of patients without causing pain and injury was demonstrated. Also, lectures on the proper care of emergency maternity cases have been given.

The squad was, and still is, a member squad of the New Jersey State First Aid Council, an organization bringing together all NJ first aid squads to advance first aid instruction and to promote the good and welfare of the member squads.

By 1972, call volume and membership had increased to the point that a change was needed in the siren dispatch, "all call" system. A committee composed of Jim Johnson, Bob Miller and Barbara Maccarillo studied the possibility of electronic pagers and of establishing regular duty crews to ration the number of volunteers showing up on a call. In June of 1972 crews were established for each week night. One member was to stay at the building and handle radio dispatches and hospital communications. Two were to be available to respond immediately. Members responding later were expected drive to the scene in a second ambulance. Crews were to perform regular cleaning and make sure ambulances were properly stocked. Crews handled weekends by rotating every fifth weekend and covered from 6 PM Saturday to 6 AM Monday. The Squad also went modern with the purchase of 20 Motorola Home Alerts to be signed out as pagers at a total cost of $3975. It was decided to test the pagers every night at 6 PM over the Squad's radio (KRX532) with words, now slightly changed, that probably make little sense to present day volunteers "Do not respond. KRX-532 Pennington First Aid Squad 6 PM home alarm test." Here is a sample of Dan Boone's famous rendition of the Home Alert Test.

Here is a sample of Dan Boone's rendition of the Home Alert Test.

Two of the Motorola Alert radios are still in operation.

From 1977 to 1999 Dub Bell occasionally interceded with the FCC so the PFAS could maintain its own radio license broadcasting at 155.265 MHz. This frequency may still be spotted on some older pagers and walkies labeled "Old PFAS." The PFAS now shares 154.13 MHz with the other Hopewell valley fire companies and first aid squads.

Surviving Motorola Alert

Surviving Motorola Alert Pager complete with cigarette burn

After years of Packard and Cadillac ambulances the trustees decided a "rescue ambulance" was needed, although some members pointed out that the Cadillacs had truly superior rides (and sirens). In a tome of many pages, inspired it is thought by Tolkien, Richard Butterfoss likened the Squad's two Caddies to "White Eagles" rushing patients to safety as he appealed to the Township of Hopewell for help in purchasing a box ambulance. This letter was successful and by 1975 the new PN-40 was sitting in the barn. (PN-40 for Pennington, of course. The squad named its own units in those days). Thus began a long history in which contributions from residents, the Township of Hopewell, and Pennington Boro, have been used to purchase ever more expensive ambulances.

1975 ambulance pictures

1975 GMC Modular Ambulance and Rescue Vehicle. 1971 and 1967 Cadillac Ambulance

The Squad was a romantic place then and the new PN-40 had no door to the back but rather a bench seat so a wife could sit beside her husband on the way home. But the Squad wanted a walk-through and the job of paying for it fell to the new Trustee, Weldon (Dub) Bell. But, how can you follow the White Eagle letter?

1975 GMC ambulance, PN-40

1975 GMC ambulance, PN40

Mr Brasher did a great job of specifying the rig, so Dub put that and the Squad's finances into a loan proposal that he sent to every bank in Mercer County. Fortunately, one bank actually read that proposal while the others sent quick rejections - some polite - some out of hand. The nice man at Princeton Bank & Trust did have one tough question - "Why do you specify a Ford when there is a picture of a Dodge on the brochure?" He also had some money he needed to loan to a "tax free" institution. Thus, an agreement was made for a very low interest loan with the down payment converted to high yield CDs at the bank. But, that was during the period when interest rates just kept rising. When the note was paid, the CDs were worth a lot more that the original loan, so the first PN-50 was not only free but made money. This does not happen any more

Dick and Jessie Bailey conceived the PFAS Cardiac Defender Program in the mid-1970s. It was the Squad's most popular offering for the public and one of the better training programs for the trainers. While today the AHA and ARC would surely denounce it as inadequate (or worse), this one night intro to CPR for everyone was just what Dr. Miller or Dr. Abbey would have ordered.

The idea was CPR for the masses. Announcements in the Post and News and at the stores brought large groups to the building. There were too many people for Annies or even pillows. Instead strips of masking tape on the ambulance bay floor were used pretty creatively. (Blankets for knees were helpful too.) Imagine and/or draw a nose and a notch (sternum) on the tape. Locate a carotid while you're at it. Everyone kneel at the line. Begin the drill. "Are you OK? Are you OK? ("No I'm a dumb line of tape.") Check the airway. "Gads this tape is not breathing." Double check. "Call 3030" (pre 911). Pinch the nose, four quick breaths...

The people liked it and came from well beyond Hopewell Township. The members liked it and got better at teaching CPR.

But once the crowd was forecast to be huge, we arranged to use the Fire Hall instead of the Squad garage. And even the captain who worried about every little thing did not think to worry about what was going to happen and the potential of disaster that could well have occurred. Imagine the Fire Hall stuffed with eager pupils. All kneeling at a whole roll's worth of tape in lines across the floor. The drill begins. All is cool until there is no pulse (tape has no pulse, right? that's why it is so realistic). The whole room is filled with lines of people, all facing south. They locate the notch and begin mid-sternum compressions. Unlike the case for a poured concrete ambulance bay, the fire hall begins to shake! For a trained engineer there is a flashback to awful examples involving marching feet and/or wind in suspension bridges. But, fortunately, the fire hall was apparently made of tough (or at least inharmonic) stuff. There is no collapse. The Firemen continue to invite us to hot dogs after the parade.

Of course, these one night stands created a large demand for real CPR training, another virtue of the defender program. The Baileys, albeit with help from other Squad members, were up to the task. The county AHA and ARC were ill prepared to facilitate training on the scale needed. Annies were in short supply and scattered. Often on Spring through Fall afternoons Mr. Bailey's ancient Travel-All could be observed on Route 1 coming from the Windsors stacked with blue babes. Since the beginning, the squads had offered courses. Cooperating within the Township, a few members had offered first-aid and CPR to train members. The squads of the county collaborated to offer EMT, but the defender program was the beginning of large numbers of PFAS members being involved in training. Members became official instructors in CPR, First-Aid, and eventually EMT on a much larger and more effective scale. Also, the Annies of the county seemed to accumulate in the squad and acquire Pennington patches on their jumpers!

Is there a CPR hall of fame?

Captains of the Pennington First Aid Squad

Charles Bell 1954-1955
William Montagna 1956
Charles Schuhardt 1957-1958
Frederick Barrett 1959
Derreck Hoagland 1960
Jack Post 1961
S. Robert Miller, Jr 1962-1963
George Vannoy 1964-1966
Michael Pinelli 1967
Diran Derman 1968-1969
James Johnson 1970-1973
Robert E. Beyer 1974-1975
Bernard Maccarillo 1976
Weldon Bell 1977
James Johnson 1978-1979
Jessie Bailey 1980-1993
Mark Reading 1994-1996
Frank Fechter, Jr. 1997-1999
Cindy Orlandi 2000-2010
Kirk Schmitt 2010-2013
Jack Ferrara 2014-2018
John Muccioli 2018-

History page is under construction

Last update 28-Aug-2012