New wheels for the EMTs Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad gets loan for new ambulance

The Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad recently acquired a $50,000 loan from the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for the purchase of a new ambulance to better serve the Weehawken community.

“We’re very excited,” said Jeff Welz, president of the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad. “We have been waiting to replace [our oldest ambulance] and this loan was an important component in ensuring we were able to purchase our vehicle this year.”

The loan is coming from the Volunteer Emergency Service Organization Loan Fund through the Division of Fire Safety.

According to the New Jersey State First Aid Council Web site, the state organization’s loan fund provides 2 percent loans for emergency vehicles, equipment and facility upgrades. Eligibility for the loans is extended to any nonprofit corporation, association, or organization that regularly provides emergency medical care.

Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner sits on the DCA’s Local Finance Board, but the board is wholly separate and has no connection or jurisdiction regarding the Emergency Service Organization or distribution of its funds.

Weehawken received the loan, even though it is a small community, because of the mass transit and traffic hubs that carry an estimated 250,000 people a day through town, with the Volunteer First Aid Squad one of the first ones on scene in event of an accident or emergency.

“The fund was started at least 15 to 20 years ago,” said Welz. “It was a great concept that started with an initial pool of $2 million, which was made available to all urban areas of New Jersey.”

Welz added, “The loans help [emergency service units] purchase equipment, renovate buildings, or purchase a new ambulance at a cap of $50,000 per vehicle.”

This is the second time Weehawken’s First Aid Squad has qualified for a full $50,000 loan to purchase a new ambulance, having received the same loan in 1993.

Out with the old

The fund, which benefits volunteer squads throughout the state, is constantly replenished by the repayments of the loan, which is paid back at a low interest rate of 2 percent.

“As money comes in, they can give more loans,” said Welz. “It’s a self-sustaining fund.”

Welz explained, “This year, we were in the market for a new ambulance. We haven’t bought a new one since 2003, and our oldest ambulance is from 1998.”

Typically, an ambulance lasts for about five to six years before it is traded in for a new model. The Volunteer First Aid Squad has three ambulances, and will be replacing their oldest one.

“We have a 1998, a 2000, and a 2003 model,” said Welz. “In the past, we tried to purchase a new ambulance every three years, but unfortunately because of the cost, we fell behind.”

Fortunately, the money was available this year, and Welz credits the support from Mayor Richard Turner and the Weehawken Council for them acquiring the maximum loan amount, which will be repaid over a 10-year period with the 2 percent interest.

“It’s a competitive [application process] because it’s statewide,” said Welz. “We are excited that with the support of the mayor and council this [has come] through.”

According to Welz, the cost of ambulances has sky rocketed over the last few years.

“They are up to $125,000 [per vehicle],” said Welz. “This loan will guarantee that we can purchase this vehicle.”

In addition to the loan, the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad will apply donations collected from their annual direct mailing fund raiser to help with the remaining costs, which is scheduled for September.

“We are hoping the residents will support us and do their share when they get our annual fund drive request,” said Welz.

The fund raiser drive is a direct mail out to the residents of Weehawken, and the donations go directly back to the squad. The funds allocated from the drive also pay for the day-to-day operations of the squad.

“We are going to take a portion of the donations and apply it to the purchase of the new ambulance, when [residents] make donations this year, we’re asking them to give a little extra,” said Welz. “It’s a tax deduction and what better way to spend money than by giving back to a community life-giving service. With their help, we will have a brand new ambulance to serve them.”

In addition, this year’s Fourth Annual Weehawken Open Gold Tournament, sponsored by the Weehawken Golf Academy, will benefit the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad. The tournament is scheduled to take place on Thursday, Aug. 14 at the Bowling Green Golf Club in Oakridge.

Shot-gun start is at 1 p.m. and the putting contest starts at noon. Prizes include trophies, golf clubs, golf bags, a large screen TV, and a $10,000 hole-in-one prize among others. For more information, call (201) 430-7056.

Also, the town council has also offered to pick up the remaining balance for the new ambulance at its estimated cost of $115,000.

Hi-tech vehicle

The squad will order the new vehicle in September with delivery expected by the following March.

“It’s a six-month delivery, and they are building it to our specifications,” said Welz.

The new ambulance will meet all necessary state and federal mandates, and will include climate controls, an onboard oxygen system, and onboard aspiration system, portable medical equipment, and onboard generator to sustain life support equipment, and a purification system to filter the air.

“We have approximately 25 EMTs (emergency medical technicians), and we respond to 2,200 calls a year,” said Welz. “We also provide service to the town of Guttenberg.”

The Volunteer First Aid Squad not only serves the residents of Weehawken and Guttenberg, but in the event of an emergency, they are among the first responders at the Lincoln Tunnel, the Light Rail, and the Weehawken Ferry Terminal.

“We are the hub for some major transportation centers and become the primary emergency service [responders] for these facilities,” said Welz. “This vehicle is there to serve the general population as they travel through Weehawken.”

The Weehawken Volunteer First Aid Squad has been in operation since 1969, and will celebrate four decades of service in the coming year.

Welz said, “We expect to display the new ambulance in May 2009 when we celebrate our 40th anniversary.”


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