Independence Township First Aid Squad Celebrates 50th Anniversary

 

By Alexander Rivero

Staff Writer

 

A black and white photo shows two squad members out on a call

The Independence Township First Aid Squad is 50 years old this year, with no signs of slowing down. 

 

First, some history. Up until about halfway through 1971, a first aid squad based out of Hackettstown volunteered to cover the area of Independence Township, which at the time had no volunteer corps to respond to emergencies. Sam Vaia, mayor of the township at the time, approached Pat Curtin, a community resident, and put the plans in motion for the township’s first ever first aid and rescue squad. Curtin was a former member of Wharton’s first aid team and, having recently moved to Independence, was in prime position to initiate the historic change. Curtin approached Bob Bonnell, former US Army medic and supply officer in Vietnam (and a former member of New York City’s 349th MASH Army Reserve unit), with the proposition to help him usher in the new squad. Within a few weeks, Vaia, Curtin, and Bonnell had agreed to put Independence Township’s first ever emergency squad together. 

 

The squad’s first official organizational meeting, held in October of 1971, took place at the township hall. Several residents were present, including a members who sought to help out in whatever capacity they could. Chief among these volunteers was Fran Horensky, a registered nurse, whose husband Steve Horensky, home babysitting the couple’s children, also wanted to join up. 

 

From the beginning, the volunteers set up a system of retrieving calls that would not interfere with other squads accustomed to coming into the area to cover emergencies. They agreed on answering calls from Independence and Liberty townships, and even a portion of Mansfield Township. The squad in neighboring Hackettstown agreed to train the newly formed volunteer unit in Independence Township in the basic and advanced Red Cross first aid tactics and procedures. 

Within the next months, more and more of the township’s residents decided to come forward and volunteer. Among them was Dr. Lawrence Mazzei, who agreed to serve as the squad’s medical advisor. Pro bono attorneys filed paperwork on behalf of the newly formed unit. In addition to the volunteers, funds began to come in with greater fluidity. With the help of a local First Hope Bank, the squad was then able to secure a loan with which to purchase its first ambulance—a 1969 used Cadillac it bought from the Basking Ridge volunteer squad for $9,000. 

 

The Hackettstown squad’s role in forming the Independence volunteer squad cannot be overstated. After training the Independence volunteers in first aid, the Hackettstown squad house also advised them, in detail, on what specific pieces of equipment to carry with them in their ambulance, and safety precautions to always take into consideration while on duty. For the time being, the township had the squad park its ambulance in one of its garages on Barkers Mill Road. By July of 1972, the Independence squad had officially assumed full responsibilities over its agreed-upon area. That same month, they responded to their first call. 

 

Now in its 50th anniversary year, the squad can boast a paid staff that stands by and assists the volunteers that come in and out of the squad house with each changing shift. The squad is averaging about a 97% success rate on answering incoming emergency calls, at a rate of about 1,000 calls last year alone. The squad pays for its members’ training, and recently became a host agency for the NJ EMS Task Force.

 

Current chief Nicholas Vazquez says that he would love to see more people come out and support the squad in whatever way they can, whether that comes by way of fundraising, or applying to volunteer via the squad’s online page. Ideal candidates should be enthusiastic, motivated, and fully committed to serving and helping their community within the wide range of the volunteer services. 

 

Members of the Independence Volunteer Squad want readers to know that across the county, state, and even the country at large, EMS squads have taken an enormous financial hit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is simply no longer there, and in the state of New Jersey, EMS squads are not even considered “essential”, say, in comparison to fire and police services. Putting it plainly, EMS workers—and especially volunteer units—need all the help they can get, and it is in our best interest, needless to say, to provide that assistance.

 

For more information on the Independence First Aid Squad and to reach out and help, please visit their webpage at www.73rescue.org. 

 

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