PLAINSBORO: Rescue squad looking for ways to secure funding

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By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
PLAINSBORO — It was just after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, and the 55-year-old man was sitting in a chair in the living room when he turned to his wife and told her that he was not feeling well.
Concerned, his wife dialed 911 and told the dispatcher that her husband had complained of some pain in his chest.
Within two or three minutes, a Plainsboro Rescue Squad ambulance rolled up in front of the house. The man’s wife was waiting outside and took the emergency medical technicians into the house.
Once inside, they discovered that the man had gone into cardiac arrest — his heart had stopped. They revived him, gently scooped him up and put him in the ambulance for the short ride to the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.
The emergency medical technicians that responded to the Saturday night call were volunteers — not paid emergency medical technicians. The volunteers respond to calls for help in the evenings and on weekends. Weekdays between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., Plainsboro has two paid emergency medical technicians to handle the calls.
While the volunteer emergency medical technicians gladly give their time to check on callers who have medical issues — such as the man whose heart had stopped — Plainsboro Rescue Squad officials made it clear that it does not come cheap.
There is a cost for supplies for the ambulances — which are used by the daytime crew as well as the volunteers — plus vehicle maintenance and on-going training for the volunteers. Factor in the cost of maintenance and utilities for the Plainsboro Rescue Squad building, which belongs to the volunteer organization, and the costs add up quickly.
That’s why the Plainsboro Rescue Squad holds a fundraising drive every year, contacting township residents and businesses for help. Given the difficulty in raising money — it costs about $260,000 to keep the ambulances on the road and the members in training — this year the squad sent out letters to homes in West Windsor Township.
It is also an action that the Plainsboro Rescue Squad has come to regret, because it failed to consult with West Windsor before sending out those fundraising letters. Rescue squad officials promised that it won’t happen again.
“We knowingly expanded to one ZIP code that extends into West Windsor, and failed to take into account that we were potentially interfering with the West Windsor Fire Co.’s fundraising efforts,” said rescue squad president Emily Wolf and rescue chief Brian Gould.
Although fundraising letters won’t be sent to residents who do not live in Plainsboro Township, the issue of funding remains. The squad’s fundraising effort netted $82,000 in donations from residents, Mr. Gould said.
“No donation is too small,” Mr. Gould said. “We are thrilled when we get a donation. It helps us to continue what we are doing, which is to give the best care that we can. We receive additional training to help keep up our skills.”
Businesses donated $6,100, and Plainsboro Township gave $60,000. This is the same amount that the township has given to the rescue squad for the past 10 years. An additional $3,800 was raised in donations from residents who used the squad’s service.
The Plainsboro Rescue Squad receives grants from time to time. It received $200,000 toward the purchase of a new ambulance from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mr. Gould said. The ambulance was delivered last month.
And while this was a good year for fundraising, there are peaks and valleys, Mr. Gould said. Some years are more successful in fundraising terms than other years. But the need to buy medical supplies and equipment remains constant.
If the Plainsboro Rescue Squad cannot raise enough money to cover its costs, it might have to dip into its reserve account for day-to-day operating costs, Mr. Gould and Ms. Wolf said. This is an action that the group does not want to take.
Some residents do not understand why they are asked to contribute money, when they already pay a fire district tax, Ms. Wolf said. The reason is that the two emergency service agencies are separate. The fire district tax only supports the Plainsboro Fire Co. None of the fire district tax money is allocated toward the Plainsboro Rescue Squad.
The Plainsboro Rescue Squad also is not affiliated with the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, Ms. Wolf said. The rescue squad is its own entity — not connected in any way with the hospital or the fire department, she said.
Meanwhile, the Plainsboro Rescue Squad has built a reputation for being so good at what it does, that people take the squad for granted, Ms. Wolf said. The residents call and the volunteer emergency medical technicians turn up on their doorstep, she said.
“There is no practical alternative to a volunteer organization in a town like Plainsboro. We have to cover a relatively large geographic area. In a city, you can justify (multiple) paid crews,” said Mr. Gould, the Plainsboro Rescue Squad chief.
Mr. Gould pointed out that sometimes, an emergency requires more than one ambulance to respond. As a volunteer organization, the Plainsboro Rescue Squad can handle such incidents because it can call on more volunteers to respond.
“(But) we can’t keep up the service. It requires money to keep doing it at the level that we are doing it. What we struggle with is getting enough money to keep it up,” Ms. Wolf said. 

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