West Essex First Aid Squad Enters Year #85 in Service to the Community

By Steve Sears

The West Essex First Aid Squad, which serves the 21-square mile area of the Caldwells, Essex Fells, and Fairfield, in 2022 celebrates its 85th anniversary in serving those communities.

“Fairfield has a paid service which covers them during daytime weekday hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. But other than that, we’re 24-hour coverage throughout the coverage area, and even then, we go into Fairfield sometimes during those hours to backup that paid service,” says Peter Nancoz, current President of the WEFAS, who has served in that role for four years, but has himself been a member for 29 years. 

The WEFAS is a not for profit, 501(c)(3) organization which provides emergency medical and rescue services to the local area, and is made up of just under 100 members. “It’s a good size,” Nancoz says. “There’s a good number of high school and college students, and that kind of limits their availability. We do great during the summer and we did great over the Christmas holiday, but right now they’re slowly going back to college.”

Nancoz briefly describes the early days. “Back in 1937, a group of residents saw the need for having an ambulance service in the area. Back in those days, the ambulance services were provided out of the hospitals. It was difficult to get an ambulance and it would take a considerable amount of time. So, a group of concerned residents formed the West Essex First Aid Squad.” Membership back then totaled about 25. A plaque with all the names of the charter members is on display at the WEFAS headquarters. In the first year, members used their own vehicles to drive people to a hospital. Eventually, the WEFAS raised the funds to purchase a used ambulance, which was in service in Scotch Plains. “And there’s a history on that. That ambulance that they had purchased actually had been at the Hindenburg disaster,” adds Nancoz, he a huge history buff. “That’s something that always stood out to me. It had responded to care for the sick and injured from that disaster.”

The WEFAS fleet has grown, and they now operate four ambulances, a rescue truck, and a special services truck.

In his time on the squad, Nancoz’s biggest challenge has been the COVID19 pandemic. “As for the call numbers for 2021, we didn’t see an explosive growth in calls. The calls have been very different. First off, not only are we responding to more calls treating people that are sick with COVID, but for every call that we go on, we’re potentially exposing our own members to a deadly illness. And that’s something that’s truly unique. And I can say for sure, personally, that’s something that hit me hard, considering that all three of my children are on the squad as well.” He also adds, “And then for any other member, also you’re potentially exposing yourself and you’re potentially bringing back that illness to your family at home. So, we saw some members that could not ride during that time. We were also incredibly fortunate the way that our younger members stepped up, particularly those that were college students during 2020 when colleges were all remote. These members were at home and they really did a phenomenal job stepping up and being able to answer a large number of calls during those times. One of them went on during that time well over 400 calls for the year. For a volunteer, that’s a phenomenally high number.  We were during that time staffing two to three ambulances every day, 24 hours a day, during peak COVID times during the second quarter of 2020 when it was really at its worst.”

“We express our gratitude to the community,” Nancoz says, “particularly in the last couple of years. The vast majority of our budget is donations. The support that we’ve gotten in the last couple of years has been phenomenal from the residents, but also a considerable amount of support we’ve gotten from the towns as well. They’ve really stepped up and have helped considerably. And we’re there for the towns, for any events that they have. Whether it be sending crews to concerts, football games, street fairs, pretty much any of those types of events we’re sending crews to standby at. That’s what we’re there for. But mainly, if you pick up the phone and need an ambulance, we’re the ones that are going to be dropping what we’re doing to come provide the ambulance.”

The WEFAS is always in need of more volunteers, and those interested can visit their location after 6 p.m. at 642 Bloomfield Avenue in West Caldwell. Information can also be found on the website, www.westessexfas.org. New members as young as 16-years-old are welcome, and full training is provided.

 

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