Mount Olive EMS – Forever Ready

By Steve Sears

There’s something to be said about working a grueling full-time job and pairing that with everyday concerns about running your household raising a family. Then, kick in being a volunteer, and that volunteer time engaging your sleeping hours and weekend free time and family activities, and you might wonder why anyone would do it.

Perhaps these words will suffice. “We certainly are not volunteering to get rich; we do it because we love the idea of helping our neighbors.”

Those are the words of Cassandra Issler, Captain of the Budd Lake side of the Township of Mount Olive EMS squad. Her Flanders counterpart, Captain Melissa Widzemok, echoes her words: “For volunteers, it’s also giving back to the community.” 

Widzemok grew up in Budd Lake and moved to Flanders when she got married. Both she and her husband are Mount Olive born and bred. She loves the community she serves. “I like the community. It has great feedback, great give back to everybody, whether it’s the volunteers, whether it’s the sports programs, the school system – it’s just a solid community. We’re backed 100% by the police department; that’s a great benefit for us as well. It’s just solid.”

Heartfelt words from both women. This will give you just an inkling of how caring the EMS folks serving the township’s roughly 33,000 residents, and even folks beyond Mount Olive borders, truly are.

The Township of Mount Olive Emergency Medical Services (EMS), sometimes referred to as “rescue squad” and “first aid squad” as well, cover a vast area. The Budd Lake EMS, located on busy Route 46, covers the northern section of Mount Olive, while Flanders, which can be found on sleepy Main Street just seconds from bustling Route 206, serves Mount Olive’s southern section. The total area of coverage is roughly 33 square miles.

That’s a lot of area. They spend a lot of hours performing necessary, vital functions. Yes, much like the Mount Olive police and fire departments, they are ever ready to respond to calls and serve.

Mount Olive Life visited with EMS on both sides of town, and communicated with EMS Director Fred Detoro, and how they articulated what they do and the emotion and value they place in volunteering and service is well worth reading. 

It’s also a great, behind-the-scenes experience.

Two EMS departments for the township

“Each EMS Department was started separately,” says Detoro, who acts as the liaison to the Mayor and Administrator. Flanders came first, starting a rescue squad in 1940, and then joined forces with the Fire Department as a tandem in 1950.  Budd Lake was born in 1954. Detoro also streamlines the budget process into a single budget which help the entire Emergency Services eliminate redundancies and pools resources  

“EMS in the township have two different EMS departments,” Detoro says. “This two-department system was originally developed to meet the needs of the two major areas of the township. In the 50’s, Budd Lake was vastly different than Flanders. The organizers in Budd Lake started a separate organization outside of the Fire Department to focus on EMS and Rescue. Flanders organizers decided to attach themselves to the Flanders Fire Department which enabled them to share the same building and manpower. Today the two departments work well together as if they were one department.”

The little sibling

Per Issler, EMS in general is the “little brother or sister to the police and fire departments.” “We don’t have the centuries old traditions of these venerable establishments. Ours is a newer service, spawned in the wake of World War One.” 

The history, the development of both EMS squads, is an interesting one 

Budd Lake First Aid Squad was formed in 1954 by eight township residents. The group held their initial meetings in the municipal building and began to take lessons on first aid from Dr. John Alcamo. Once proficient in first aid application, EMS in Budd Lake was ready to go. 

The first ambulance was a 1937 LaSalle ambulance donated by Morgan Funeral Home in Netcong. The original squad was all volunteer and self-funded. Door-to-door campaigns for funds, sponsored raffles, circuses and other activities garnered the equipment to outfit the ambulance. They then requested and gladly from the township the official okay to form the squad. 

They purchased their second ambulance in 1956, a 1953 Cadillac. “Originally, EMS was housed, depending on the jurisdiction in question, under fire departments, under hospitals, and (rather morbidly) under funeral homes,” says Issler. “These early organizations often had little training outside of very basic first aid. This coincided with the time when “house calls,” as made by physicians, became increasingly rare – necessitating someone to transport a sick or injured person to a hospital. The EMS organizations that formed helped to fill this gap.  Some of those organizations, as mentioned, were housed as a separate company under fire departments, with the company officer holding the rank of Captain. While the rank is currently equivalent to that of a fire department’s Chief, independent EMS organizations (those not affiliated with another emergency service agency) use the rank of Captain as a way of honoring this progeny. This can cause some confusion, especially among younger individuals.”

In 1957 the squad bought a 1957 panel truck for $1,000.00, painting it and laying out floors, installing cabinets, and  buying first aid equipment . The truck was used as an ambulance, while the regular ambulance was used for transporting and general emergencies.

Budd Lake EMS realized as the decade closed that they needed their own headquarters of their own. In September 1959, the 14-member squad started a three-month building job which evolved into new headquarters worth $45,000.00. 

An increase in population meant an increase in roadways and highways, which meant an increase in vehicles and accidents. Issler continues. “It was not until the 1960s, when the creation of highways led to an increase in morbidity and mortality among motorists, that the Federal government got involved and, under the Department of Transportation, created the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. EMS, as it stands today, is a direct descendent of these programs – so it is entirely fitting that we also perform motor vehicle extrication, in addition to providing prehospital emergency care.  The US Department of Transportation is the agency that sets the curricula for EMS programs, which the State Department of Health modifies to conform with the State’s needs. Created later in the 1970s, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians was formed as an independent body that provides a nationally recognized EMT certification. This is kind of neat because we have some members who remember when the EMT certification was the “new” thing, while it is something others among us grew up with.” 

 Budd Lake EMS currently has 52 active members.

Flanders EMS celebrates 70 years in 2020. Flanders EMS is located on the village’s main thoroughfare, Main Street, right near where Detoro grew up. Flanders Fire Company No. 1 and EMS share a building as a joint department. If needed, Widzemok and her team will head to Budd Lake if a call is serious. “We’ll go mutually into Roxbury, to Chester if we need to, Hackettstown if needed, we’ll go to Stanhope and Netcong, we can go to Randolph, and we’ll go mutually with any of the paid services if they need backup during the day. We cover all of the Flanders portion of this side of town. It’s a busy town.” Flanders EMS is near Routes 46, 206, 183. “We’ll also go up to Route 80,” she adds.

Randolph Township in 1950 donated an ambulance, known as a “cheesebox” due to its shape, to Flanders. This was replaced in 1951 by a 1949 Studebaker, which in turn was replaced by a blue Cadillac in 1958. 


Who they are and what they do

EMS Flanders officers are Widzemok (currently in her third term as Captain and 14th as a member), 1st Lieutenant is Todd Summer, and 2nd Lieutenants are Pete Manfredo and Josh Heyman (4th year at Flanders EMS). 

Widzemok sees it as a benefit to share a building with the fire department. “We have a lot of members that are cross-trained for fire and EMS,” she says, “so they can get on either piece of apparatus. If that apparatus rolls out of the building and we do need assistance, we’re able to have members on either team that can help.”

The mission statement, courtesy of the website, reads: “The Rescue Squad has the responsibility of keeping up with all Federal, State, and local laws, procedures, and policies that oversee the Emergencies Medical Service. The Rescue Squad also has the duty to maintain the Ambulances and all other equipment used to protect the lives and property of the Flanders residents as well as those who live around our town. The Rescue Squad is also responsible for attaining the best possible equipment and the continuous training of our members – both for their safety and the safety of all whom we protect.”

The squad currently has 40 active members. “We go on all types of EMS calls, whether it’s a CPR, a psychological emergency, a childbirth or pediatrics trauma, car accidents and fire assistance as well. We have three ambulances, and all the equipment we have on our ambulances everybody is trained on,” says Widzemok. “Backboards, stretcher, hare traction.” There are also two EMS First Responder vehicles.

“The Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad covers an area of roughly half of the Town’s approximate 31 square miles,” says Issler. This coverage area includes Mount Olive’s boarders with Hackettstown, Washington, Byram, and Netcong. “We share coverage of the township with our sister company, Flanders Fire and Rescue. While our time is spent primarily responding to emergencies within Budd Lake, we assist Flanders when they need an extra set of hands. We have a great relationship with Flanders. During fires we assume roles for them so that they can focus on firefighting operations, and they are always ready to have our backs when we need it. I am very happy of the great relationship we have built with them! In addition to occasionally lending a hand to Flanders, we also will respond to the townships that surround us when requested and we assist in responding to areas under the jurisdiction of the State, such as Route 80 and the surrounding State parks. Despite this, however, our primary concern is ensuring that the residents of Mount Olive Township receive the top-notch prehospital care they deserve.” 

The Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad is a separate entity under the Township’s Charter, and therefore has its own building, which is located on the Route 46 East side of Budd Lake. “I believe that this is beneficial in that we are able to focus on the emergency medical needs of our residents, much like the police department focuses on law enforcement – rather than dabbling in multiple, diffuse missions for which they are neither trained nor proficient. As a result, both departments are able to “stay in their own lane” and provide the services required of them, while working together in mutually beneficial ways for our community. Our mission and our leadership are focused on what the emergency medical needs of our community are. This is not to say that a combined approach, such as that used by Flanders Fire and Rescue, is the wrong way to go. Certainly, they make it work and they do it well.  But it is worth noting that the benefit for our organization is evident when there is a fire in town. Everyone wants to ride the big, red truck and put the fire out; it is far less sexy to be the person trying to ensure the firefighters are healthy enough to keep battling the fire, to ensure they are hydrated, and to be the guy or gal who has to tell the firefighter, ‘No you can’t go back into the fire, your blood pressure is through the roof. Put the coffee down, have a water, and relax for a minute (a process called firefighter rehabilitation, or rehab).’ Luckily, the fire department’s Chiefs fully have our back when we are providing rehabilitation services to their firefighters. The core here is our ability to focus on our core mission: we are dedicated, through our members, to help the sick and injured,”

Being an independent first aid squad enables Issler and crew to focus solely on their mission to give aid to the sick and injured in their community. Her side of town has about 9,000 residents. “We have no desire to do a firefighter’s job; we have no desire to do a police officer’s job. We are there to support our brothers and sisters in red and blue, as we all work symbiotically to help our community. Our members come from diverse backgrounds, including those who multi-disciplined in the emergency services, concurrently serving as firefighters, emergency managers, dispatchers, and police officers, but when they are responding with our organization they are EMTs and their focus is on the patient, because there is no other alternative that the individual might find more enticing. The benefit of being patient and mission focused is that there is not a choice for us as to which role we will fill on a given call.  We do not have to prioritize our job based on available staffing – we know the patients, victims, and other first responders who require our assistance or services are our responsibility. There is power behind such focus.” 

Detoro also wants residents to know that, even though Mount Olive township has a Hospital Based EMS (Atlantic Ambulance) system during the weekday, all other calls are covered by volunteers. “EMS calls have grown at a rapid pace in recent years,” he says, “and Mount Olive Township partnered with Atlantic EMS to provide coverage.”

The number of calls can be astounding

Flanders EMS in 2018 was sent out on 533 calls, Budd Lake 718. High numbers, but not surprising considering the number of vehicles traveling over the variety of busy, congested roadways in a busy area. And that’s just the vehicular side, not building or house fires. All calls are received and dispatched by the Mount Olive Police Department. Atlantic Ambulance Corporation serves both Budd Lake and Flanders during the day from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. “Just because,” says Widzemok, building on Detoro’s above explanation, “volunteerism was down and there were delays in answering calls. Unfortunately, the township had to decide to pull that in. That 533 calls are what we answered at night and on weekends. However, we are always available. If they’re out on multiple calls, then it comes back to the volunteers.”

Detoro works very closely with each Captain and their respective departments individually based on the current needs of each department, from ordering new equipment to general budgetary needs.

“The entire Emergency Services in Mount Olive are always planning and evaluating,” Detoro states. “Mount Olive Township has yet to stop growing and the Emergency Services of Mount Olive Township will continue to grow and adapt to the ever-changing demographics of this town. The men and women of the Emergency Services has always stayed committed in providing the best service to the township and will continue to do so in the future.”


The breakdown

Issler explains the breakdown of Budd Lake EMS. “The Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad, like our sister companies throughout the Township, are divided into two sides of the same house, the administrative side and the operational side. The administrative side of the Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad is currently led by President Chavonda Jackson. She is tasked with ensuring we have the money to buy the supplies we need, the trained people to use those supplies, functioning vehicles to transport those supplies and our patients, and a building in which to house those supplies and vehicles. On the other side, you have the organization’s operational side of the house. I lead this as the squad’s Captain, which is equal in “rank” to a Chief.  Think about the rank structure as you would comparing ranks in the Navy (led by Admirals) to the Army (led by Generals) – at the end of the day, they are equivalent ranks, just different names. My job is to ensure we respond to calls for help, that we operate safely on scene, that there is command and control on that scene, and that we transport the patient (or patients) to the hospital. Honestly, I give Chavonda a lot of credit – I think the administrative side is a lot more difficult a job and it is one that gets far less credit than the Captain.” 

Issler is assisted by First Lieutenants John Leon and Quincy Jackson, and Second Lieutenants Shane Spitzer and Zachary Butchyk.

The administrative side holds fundraisers to support the operations, oversees the maintenance of the building and property, is tasked with establishing and controlling a budget, and in-processes new members. Operationally, Budd Lake EMS responds to calls for assistance. “This can be fairly straight forward or very complex, ranging from a call for a simple assist (e.g., helping someone off the ground) to a mass casualty incident,” says Issler. “Regardless of the severity of the call, our members respond with the same degree of professionalism.” Also, there is constant training involved. “In addition to responding to calls, we train, train, and train some more. Training can include our annual training as required by PEOSH (Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health), training to maintain our emergency medical technician credentials, training to keep us at the cutting edge of the emergency medical services, and training on specialty topics for calls we are likely to encounter, such as cold weather emergencies or sports injuries.  While I do not have an exact figure, I would estimate that for every hour we spend with a patient, three hours are spent in training on an annual basis. It is a considerable time commitment for our members. But, if you really want to find out what it is that we do, the best advice I can give is that we always welcome new members, so learn what it is we do by joining our ranks.”

Widzemok also speaks about the importance of training. “Training is conducted every third Thursday of the month. The biggest thing is we never stop training. There are always new things, things change with state protocol. Now we do carry medications on our ambulances to administer to a patient.”

Budd Lake EMS uses several pieces of equipment, and that includes the many vehicles made for their and a patients’ care and transport. “The ones most community members recognize are ambulances, which include Rig 73 which is being remounted onto a new chassis, Rig 75, and Rig 76. These vehicles carry the life-saving equipment used when responding to a call for aid and transport our patients to the hospital.” Of course, EMS members who respond in these vehicles are certified emergency medical technicians. Also, with the actual Budd Lake directly across the road, Issler’s team is no stranger to having to do rescues on the water, and ice. “Because we are a lake community, we operate a boat to assist members of the community who may become stranded on the lake. Our boat, referred to the call sign of 72, can be seen throughout the summer months docked at the Budd Lake Beach, ready to respond if a boater or swimmer is in peril. Members who respond in this boat are emergency medical technicians who are specially trained in water rescue and motorized boat operations. In addition, we operate an extrication vehicle, Rescue 77. This vehicle has tools to remove our patients from vehicles if they are trapped inside due to an accident. Members who respond in this vehicle are emergency medical technicians who receive specialized training as extrication technicians. In addition, we are in the process of replacing our first responder vehicle, Rescue 74. This vehicle is operated by a certified emergency medical technician and is intended to allow us to rapidly proceed directly to a scene and initiate patient care.  We also have a utility vehicle, designated 78, that can carry a back-boarded patient. We use this at special events, such as those at Turkey Brook Park, or during search and rescue operations, where topography prohibits access by traditional emergency vehicles. Finally, the Captain is assigned Rescue 20 , which is used as a command vehicle and first response vehicle.” 

The juggling of family, job, and volunteering

Many off the Budd Lake EMS team work full-time jobs and volunteer with EMS. In fact, all positions within Budd Lake EMS are volunteer. “The vast majority of our members work full-time jobs and they too have families,” says Issler. “They spend their time responding to help their neighbors, they train extensively to gain and maintain certifications – at times out of their own pockets, and they miss birthdays, holidays, and other gatherings of families and friends, all so that the other members of our community can be assured of a safe and efficient response in the event of an emergency. The benefit of having members who have “real jobs” is that it offers our organization, and others like it, a diverse pool of professionals to utilize. We have electricians, carpenters, and other trades represented in our membership. We have teachers, engineers, admins, managers, small business owners, professional first responders, students, retirees, and many others represented in our ranks.” The educations of the members vary from current high school students to individuals who hold doctorates. “Having such a broad range of education means that we are able to help better ourselves as a group. Older members, especially those with advanced degrees and/or teaching experience, will help tutor our younger members in various academic subjects. Some of our members are working toward certification as nurses and these members provide a bounty of knowledge that is especially helpful for understanding EMS procedures in our new (and at times older) members. Some of our members are great writers and take time to help others write squad related materials, such as call reports, or personal essays and letters.  We are a truly diverse group, and, despite our many differences, we are one coherent team that helps better itself beyond the direct needs of the organization. This diversity also helps us when responding to an emergency and when conducting our internal business in that there are many different viewpoints, rather than approaching emergency situations or internal business with a “group think” mentality.”

Widzemok is a mom to two children and wife (her husband is a Flanders firefighter), and she also works full-time as an elementary school Teacher’s Aide while volunteering for EMS. “Lots of people think that this is all paid and we get paid to do this. We don’t.”

Josh Heyman, while sitting in the control room at the Flanders Fire Department, discusses public misconception regarding EMS. “I feel like a lot of people think we’re billing them when we come. We don’t bill, we don’t charge anything like doing a transport to the hospital. I think lot of people might be afraid to go to the hospital or call 911 when they really need it, and we’re coming and they’re not going to get billed.” Heyman attends County College of Morris, and he also works as an EMT for Atlantic Ambulance, the unit which covers many of the towns during the day when volunteers are unavailable. “We don’t do that. It’s all volunteer; and the transport or care that we give, it’s all free.”

For Issler, the work and life balancing are most challenging. “Balancing work, family life, and volunteering is difficult. Throughout the nation, we are seeing a decline in volunteerism. Even in our own town, volunteers are difficult to come by.” She as well weighs in regarding the need for paid ambulance service during the day. “Realizing this limitation, we brought a paid service in to cover daytime shifts during the week, both here and in Flanders. Too many of our members worked outside of the town or, if they did work within the town, their employers wouldn’t let them leave to respond to an emergency. Bringing in the paid service allowed our members to focus on providing services to our neighbors when we are home, alleviating some of the strain volunteering puts on a member’s employment. Of course, there are nights where our members are out helping their community, not getting sleep, and still need to report on time for their 9-5 job. So, the paid service does not fully alleviate the strain on the member’s jobs and, by virtue of what we do when we do it, not too much else can be done to alleviate this stressor.” 

Issler has missed many family events and celebrations, all because she was on duty for Budd Lake EMS.  “Because of my position, I have missed my nieces’ and nephew’s birthdays, there are many nights where my husband is fending for himself because I am at the squad, and chores around the house sometimes don’t get done because, of course, when I planned to do something during my Saturday shift, I wind up taking back to back calls and accomplish nothing. I know the vast majority of our members go through the same thing.  But it helps to have a support system. My parents understand and encourage my commitment, my husband is a professional first responder, my mother-in-law is a nurse, and my father-in-law is the past Chief of Newton Fire Department; suffice it to say, my family “gets it.” Without support from our families, I don’t think any of us would be able to sacrifice the kind of time we do to serve our community.”

Further challenges and misconception

Widzemok, when asked what the most challenging aspects are of being EMS Captain and a member of the squad in general, doesn’t hesitate. “The most challenging aspect is that I’m also a mom. I do work full-time, so finding the time to delegate for administrative tasks is very time-consuming, as far as planning budgets, making sure training is being done, everybody’s on board and we’re ready to go at any point during the day or night. The most rewarding is going out into the community and being able to help somebody in need whether it’s an elderly patient or pediatric patient who is scared, just to know that there is somebody coming in to help them, and they appreciate you.”

Then there’s the reality of real life versus, for lack of a better word, fiction. Issler definitively feels television paints a false picture of EMS and the emergency services in general. It’s not as reckless as it looks, nor as easy. “While everyone is taught in driver’s education that they have to yield the right of way to an emergency vehicle that has activated its lights and sirens, sadly some people pay this no heed.  In television and movies, traffic moves like Moses parting the Red Sea; in actuality this does not always happen. Many drivers are courteous, while some ignore our attempt to arrive at a scene safely and expeditiously. What does this mean on the other end of the 911 call? It means that, while the sick or injured person is laying on the ground, we are trying to get there but are delayed.” 

Not so, at least in cinema and television. “In movies and television, mainly because the minutes it actually takes for an ambulance to arrive means the writers need to develop additional dialog and action,  ambulances and other emergency responders arrive in short order. Often scenes depict ambulances driving recklessly though traffic, driving through intersections at breakneck speed, nearly flying to arrive at the scene. While we respond and arrive on scene within a time that is consistent with national averages, often individuals have an unrealistic expectation of when we will arrive, based mainly on how a response transpired on television. I’ve been on the other side of the 911 call before, so I totally understand that minutes feel like hours, but I assure you, if you call 911 an ambulance will arrive, the crew just needs to get there safely because what good are they to you if they get into an accident?” She also feels television and motion pictures create unrealistic expectations about what it is EMS can do or does when they pull up to a scene. “We do not do pain management and we don’t carry opiates, so if you’re in pain absent of trauma, we cannot do anything for you except bring you to the hospital. CPR is depicted as a quick and efficient process, whereby the patient is revived after a few moments of compressions. In reality, this is seldom the case and, while we work to save the patient even after we have brought the patient into the emergency room, by helping the ER staff in performing compressions and ventilations, in many cases CPR is unsuccessful. We do our best to give the patient a chance at living, but we are mere mortals and cannot oppose the will of the Almighty. Emergency medical technicians are often depicted providing medical advice as if they were physicians. In reality, we are prohibited from doing so; there are steps we can take to save lives and ease pain from injuries and illnesses, but there are limitations to what we are allowed to do.”  

EMS (and EMT) duties courtesy of the big screen are often depicted as entertaining and clean, set up for the viewer’s taste. “What audience would like to watch what it is really like?” asks Issler. “In reality, working as an emergency medical technician can range moment to moment from mundane to terrifying, back to boring, to mildly amusing, and back to the everyday humdrum. It would not make for good television. However, it is because of those moments of terror, where a member of our community is having the worst day of his or her life, where we actually have a chance to help someone, that we volunteer. It is in those moments of mild amusement, brought on by the comradery within our organization, that keeps us coming back and remaining sane. I think anyone in the emergency services can appreciate this fact.”

Then there is the “they get paid” belief among many residents. Not true. “While it is true we receive a very small stipend at the end of each year to maintain our uniforms and members who meet a certain level of participation receive a small consideration placed in a retirement account (a program called the Length of Service Award Program or LOSAP), we are not paid for the many hours we put in,” claims Issler. “In an age where people are demanding $15 an hour to perform a menial task, the amount we receive for our effort equates to roughly $1.40 per hour, assuming that member does the bare minimum required to maintain their active role in our organization. The vast majority of our members put in much more time than the bare minimum. Even the money we receive is not something we have access to.  The LOSAP funds are held for a period of at least 10 years and we get a uniform allowance at the end of the year. So, if it is June and you tear your pants on a call, which happens often because we are lifting and carrying patients, you are not reimbursed until December.”

 The rewards

Serving the Mount Olive community, which obviously can be stressful at times when combined with daily life, is the most rewarding part of being a volunteer. “We are privileged to help our friends and neighbors when they need our help,” says Issler. “Think about it, a member of our community calls 911 because he or she is having a really, really bad day. We come to help make that day a little better.  Providing assistance to our neighbors in need is tangible, and it is an honor to be included in the days of our neighbors’ lives that they will never forget, such as during the birth of their children. How many people can say something like that? At the same time, this honor can be a somber one. Occasionally, there is nothing we can do to save a person and all we can do is serve as a shoulder upon which our neighbor can cry. Being a volunteer EMT means being there for your community during their time of need, regardless of what that need may be.” 

This united sense of purpose is the other rewarding aspect of being a member of the Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad and Flanders EMS.  It helps to build comradery among the ranks. “We are all there for the same reason, we want to help our community. This high degree of comradery helps to retain members. Often, we socialize together when we are not on call; this is mainly because of our common experience. The comradery found within our organization is also a great opportunity for those of us who are not originally from the town, as it allows us to meet new people and to get involved in our adopted community.” When Issler moved to Mount Olive in 2008, she knew no one. Now, she has an organization of friends who she knows she can count on when in need. “Aside from the ability to help our community, being part of something bigger than yourself is a wonderful feeling.”

Heyman agrees volunteering in Mount Olive is rewarding and is good for any township. “There’s definitely more benefits to have free service coming in like taking you to the hospital, treating you and whatever you need done, instead of paying for it. Again, a lot of the people coming to you are doing it on their own time, they enjoy it.”

Caring for each other, togetherness, and the tough times

For all the heartwarming stories about successful rescues and saving a life, there is the flip side. “There are times when it’s very difficult,” says Widzemok regarding the day after a sad scene, where outcomes didn’t transpire as hoped. “There’s always the ‘What if?’, ‘What could I have done better?’ But we also realize that everything we possibly could’ve done is what we have done with our training. Training is key, and that’s why we’re always training. If it’s something that is horrific, we have outreach programs where we can have people come in and have group discussions, debriefs, and everybody is able to state their feelings out on the floor whether it’s questions or concerns.” There is also an open-door policy among line officers where EMS members can have open but private communication. “We get you through the hardest aspect of the call. We’re always there to help each other. ”

The key to it all? “Togetherness. We (Fire and EMS) are always together. Whether its 7:00 at night or 1:00 in the morning, we’re always together.”

 “It’s very tough to pinpoint,” says Widzemok, regarding a memorable rescue. “We’ve had multiple calls – the Fenimore call, where they were all overcome by carbon monoxide, they all lived without any deficits, and then they came down to the firehouse and we were able to meet them under different circumstances and it was just a very rewarding feeling. Also, not so much for me, but some years ago there was a house fire on Main Street where two members of the family had passed away. My husband was one of those who saved the little girl. He was on the high of the save, and I was on the low having somebody pass, so it’s very hard to have a checks and balances situation, especially when you have two people in the same house that are here to do this.” She pauses, then continues. “When we leave the fire house, we try to leave it here at the firehouse. It’s very hard to do, especially when you have built up feelings and emotions, but with the support of other members, other line officers, we’re able to overcome and achieve.”

Heyman says, “It’s a different type of feeling. Being here (Flanders EMS) is more of a family aspect, as opposed to being at work and doing it for my job.”

Giving back

The Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad is always actively engaged in the community, providing services to beyond responding to 911 calls.  “Our township is blessed to have a wonderful, progressive Recreation Department and we partner with them to provide first aid coverage for their various events.  We partner with our sister company, Flanders Fire and Rescue, to provide coverage for the Recreation Department’s various events, including mud runs, bicycle races, the town’s carnival, and many more.  We, along with Flanders, provide coverage for football games and we provide coverage for the annual lacrosse tournament held in Turkey Brook Park. In addition, we participate in many other township activities, such as robotics tournaments, “Touch a Truck,” “Pirates and Fairies Festival,” the food truck festival, and National Night Out. It is truly a terrific opportunity to be involved in these impactful township events.” 

Budd Lake also has an auxiliary that consists of members who specifically aid in raising funds for the organization. It’s another way, avenue if you will, to help or join Budd Lake EMS. “If you would like to be part of our group but cannot sacrifice the time required to gain certification or do not have the time to commit to assigned shifts, this is a great opportunity to help us help our community,” Issler encourages.  

Per Widzemok, there are numerous ways that Flanders EMS gives back to the community beyond responding to call. Local Boy and Girl Scout troops are offered training in a fun way at the fire house, the youngsters being taught how the ambulance is used and what the inside of it looks like. They bring their stuffed animals and are taught how to bandage them using first aid. “We don’t want the children to be scared,” says Widzemok, smiling, “just like we don’t want any patient to be scared.” 

Appreciating support, and needing it

In addition to monetary support, EMS needs it from mental and  emotional standpoints as well. 

Issler is very thankful for the support of others. “As I mentioned before, we are blessed to have a great team over in the Recreation Department, but we are also blessed to have outstanding, consistent support from Mayor Rob Greenbaum, Township Administrator Andrew Tatarenko, the members of the Town Council, and Director of Emergency Services Fred Detoro. With the support of these Township officials, as well as the support of our sister companies, Flanders Fire and Rescue and the Budd Lake Fire Department, and that of the Mount Olive Police Department, we are able to serve our community and meet our mission: To help the sick and injured within our community. We would like to thank all of these individuals and departments for constantly championing our organization.”


Mount Olive EMS welcomes donations, whether it be money or time. Donations can also be mailed to or dropped off at the fire houses (and at Budd Lake EMS if someone is present).

As for Issler and Budd Lake EMS, perhaps the best way to contribute is to join the department. “We are always looking for members and if anyone is interested in joining, I encourage them to come down to our building (365 Route 46 in Budd Lake) between 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. on any Wednesday to speak with our President, Chavonda Jackson, to inquire about joining. Community members who may not have the time to invest in volunteering, but wish to contribute to our mission, can always donate to our organization.” An added benefit is that all donations to the Budd Lake First Aid and Rescue Squad are tax exempt. They can be mailed to P.O. Box 761, Budd Lake, NJ 07828. “While we are always willing to receive donations, rather than just sending in money, community members can participate in the many fundraisers we hold each year. I like the fundraisers because it allows the community to meet us and engage with us directly, in a manner that sending a check never can compete with.” And, says Issler, there are a few fundraisers that many residents may not be aware of. “Do you own a motorcycle? Did you know that we hold an annual motorcycle run? Do you celebrate the holidays with a Christmas tree? Did you know we sell them? Do you enjoy Jersey Girl’s craft libations? Did you know we sell them (responsibly, of course) during the Carnival and the Food Truck Fest? The proceeds from our fund raisers go directly to supporting our operations. Check out our Facebook page, where we update the community with ways they can get involved with our fund raisers.”

Also, visit the Budd Lake EMS website,

To support Flanders EMS, visit the “Suport Us” page on their website, Monetary donations can be made during their “Road Drive” on Route 206 and Flanders Bartley, and via online donations through Amazon Smile and PayPal.

“The value of supporting EMS,” states Widzemok, “is to understand the commitment that volunteers give, to be able to provide to their community. While we take time away from our own families to help those in need when they need it most, and yes, new members are welcome. We are always looking for new members to join the department. Those who are interested in joining can come down to the firehouse any Thursday. We start our Thursday night meetings or drills at 7:30 p.m.”

Thanks go out to both the men and women of Budd Lake and Flanders EMS, those who have served and they that currently do. 

No one gets paid, everyone is a volunteer, and all sacrifice valuable time doing something they love to do.

Mount Olive, they’ve “got your back.”


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