In 1941 Twenty three men took a series of First Aid courses with Dr. Harry C. Sayer as the instructor. The very first call was on June 24th 1942, by August of the same year the 22nd call was logged. In the same period in 2002 we responded to 221 calls. The first vehicle was a 1941 Buick, currently WVAS has 3 fully equipped Ambulances. Prior to the formation of the corps sick and injured people would find help from where ever they could. Trucks and cars would serve for transportation to medical care.
Although the basic nature of the volunteer services we provide is still to properly prepare and transport sick and injured people to area hospitals some things have changed over the years. For example we currently maintain a loan closet with items such as shower benches, crutches and wheelchairs. However there was a time when we maintained and delivered electric hospital beds, large oxygen tanks and oxygen tents to patients convalescing at home. WVAC even maintained a truck to deliver and pick up those items. Currently we still transport non ambulatory people to and from St. Anthony's and other area hospitals but up until the early 1990's the Corps made regular transport trips to such far flung places as Buffalo NY, East Orange NJ, NYC, Washington DC and Newport News VA.
The range of duties that a corps member provides has seen changes over the years. Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's) are trained to take blood pressure, heart rate, asses for a variety of signs and symptoms as well as taking a medical history from a conscious patient. In years past the first aid trained responder would not perform these duties. However he might be called to continue care for the patient beyond the ER, often assisting with setting a broken limb or setting up an oxygen tent in the hospital. On one fondly remembered call a baby was born moments after the elevator doors opened on the third floor maternity ward at St. Anthony's! A rare case of starting out with one patient and suddenly having two! These days, because of liability issues, care ends when the patient is safely seated on an Emergency room bed.
Liability issues led to better record keeping. At first a log book was kept in each ambulance mostly to keep track of mileage, which members were responding, time, date and location. After a few calls from lawyers asking questions like "what did you do to such and such a patient on such and such a date?" Record keeping had to change. Currently a NYS approved Patient Care Report (PCR) is filled out for each call including ones where medical rare is refused by the injured person.
In the beginning the communication system was as one might imagine in 1942. A person needing emergency care would call the operator and the operator would put the call through to the Captain who also served as Dispatcher. His name was Fred Ferricks and he owned a department store in what is now called the Gilvens Building. As far as anyone remembers he took calls both at his house and at his store. Fred would call two crew members on the phone, giving them the pertinent information. The men either owned their own businesses or farms or worked at businesses in town. At the lumberyard, the railroad the feed store and telephone company, these business owners and mangers knew that part of community life was letting their employees leave for this reason. There are still a few businesses with this compassionate and community minded policy in place today. At one time the Mayor of the village was a riding member and here is a story about him. He was one of the few people in town who wore a necktie. On one call transporting a mentally agitated woman to the Psychiatric Hospital he was grabbed by his necktie and held tight, his face started to turn red until he was rescued by his fellow corps member who pried the patients fingers off the tie. They had a good laugh and thought it would make a fantastic headline in the paper "Mayor strangled by irate citizen".
In the early years there was no communication between the ambulance and hospital or any one else. Today a mobile phone and broadband radio is part of standard equipment. These communication devices allow timely information to be passed between the ambulance and hospital, dispatcher, police and other responders.
Fred Ferricks continued to serve as dispatcher after Bill Miller became Captain. The next dispatcher was a fondly remembered woman by the name of Lil (Conklin) Smith. By now people could directly dial an emergency number and the phone would ring at her house or place of employment. She would then call who ever she knew to be available. CB radios came into use and this technology was put into service. CB Radios were installed on each Ambulance and a few members had them at home and in their cars. Later as people and WVAS got busier a few beepers were available to on call corps members. However Lil Smith was reluctant to page the beepers due the $0.10 phone charge incurred. Some members still remember being able to tell the seriousness of a call by the tone of her voice. After Lil Smith retired Lloyds paging service was employed as a dispatcher. Then Cullins Communications and finally with the change to county wide 911 service we are now dispatched by pager directly from a county emergency service center.
In the beginning years two first aid certified members were a complete crew. In 2002 and since the late 1980's all crews responding to a call have on board an EMT and a Driver (who has first aid and CPR certification or may also be an EMT) as well as one or two other members with a minimum of first aid/CPR training. Generally a minimum of three members currently respond to a call, more commonly we have a crew of four. With Junior corps observers we often have five members on a call,
The first bay was a garage under the Old Town Hall. Meetings were held in the space with the Ambulance pulled out. Supplies were stored near the buildings boiler. When a second Ambulance was added it was garaged in the Opera House or Stanley Building, now commonly referred to as the Demarest building. The advantage of this was that it put an ambulance on either side of the railroad tracks. Later a garage at St. Anthony Hospital was used. Then land was donated by Tom Welling for construction of a building to house the growing equipment and fleet of WVAS.
Another Major change since the 1940's was the inclusion of women as regular riding members. This change came about in the 1980's. Up until then a few women memorably Jean and Fran Batz, Alice Boyle, Ester Rader and Doris Minturn who were associated with the corps would ride along on long transports of female patients but these ladies did not respond to emergency calls. Currently 11 of our female members are certified EMT's and 9 are trained in first aid. In total as of February 2003 the WVAS has 59 members of both sexes and all ages of which 24 are EMTs. We can see how much we have grown when we compare that to the original 23 first aid trained volunteers. We also have an active Junior Corps established in 1996. We welcome these young people as regular riding members when they turn 18.
At first no uniform was worn. Then one member in the 1960's who was a landscape contractor would show up, a fellow member recalled "covered from the top of his head to the tip of his toes in filth". So a white cotton coverall was issued making for a very presentable and professional looking corp. When white cotton was considered impractical for a number of reason including being a bit too revealing on women corps members, a bright orange cotton/poly blend was issued, but was unpopular although very safe on dark nights. Currently our uniform color is green. Members are issued a jumpsuit, rain coat, winter coat, sweatshirt, polo shirt and tee shirt.
Every year for many years WVAS has an annual dinner. It is a time to relax with each other in a social and entertaining environment. The first dinner held to honor the work of WVAS was held by the Ladies Auxiliary of the American Legion in the gymnasium that once stood behind the 1810 house.
Warwick Community Ambulance Service continues to offer First Aid training to people in our community. Call (845) 986 4136 for a membership application or for information on our next First Aid /CPR training. Captain Frank Cassanite said at a recent discussion about the history of the corps "This is some of our history and our future should include you!"
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