Cranbury residents question response times of first aid squad


Cranbury officials intend to explore what the costs would be for the township to have an emergency rescue squad as a branch of municipal government.

In response to some residents asking if the town could provide the service, Mayor Glenn R. Johnson said on June 12 that officials would look into it, “put some figures together” and report back later this year.

At present, the Cranbury First Aid Squad is a private entity that consists of a mix of paid employees and volunteer members. The organization receives $70,000 from the township.

During a Township Committee meeting on June 11 that attracted an overflow crowd, officials heard from residents about bad experiences they had when they were in a crisis.

Resident Penny Ftikas shared how she made a 911 call in November for her mom, who had “crushing chest pain.” She said an advanced life support squad arrived “swiftly” from out of town, but the local first aid squad did not arrive until 36 minutes later, even though it is a short distance away.

Ftikas said two squad members showed up, but they were unable to get the gurney “properly into the ambulance.”

“One of the contraptions allowing for the gurney to be placed in the ambulance was then broken,” she said. “We had to wait another 10 to 15 minutes for a second ambulance to be brought over to her home. The young man who was driving was unfamiliar with New Brunswick and proceeded to use his GPS system while driving, merging onto Route 18 north from Exit 9 of the Turnpike and narrowly avoiding an accident.”

She contrasted that to a subsequent 911 call when paid EMTs were on duty and arrived in 13 minutes.

“Their care and quality and control of the situation were stellar,” she said.

Later in the meeting, rescue squad Capt. John Nichols sought to explain the service delay in getting to Ftikas’ mother. He said when the 911 call came in, first responders in West Windsor were dispatched to a street with the same name in that Mercer County municipality as the street in Cranbury where Ftikas’ mother was.

“We were dispatched 13 minutes later when it was realized it was not Evans Drive in West Windsor, it was Evans Drive in Cranbury,” he said.

In terms of the experience of the EMTs who responded, he said each EMT “had answered, at least, 200 calls prior to that day.” Nichols cited “equipment failure” that required calling a second ambulance to the scene.

Touching on response times, Nichols said the county average in Middlesex County is 13 minutes to get an ambulance to the scene after being dispatched. He said the first aid squad, in May, had an average response time of six minutes to get to the Elms, a local nursing home.

Sitting in front of the governing body, Nichols brought with him a stack of volunteer applications.

“The problem we have, the fire department has, every volunteer service in this state has, every volunteer service in this country has, is the lack of volunteers,” he said. “And so we try to do our best with what we have.”

During the meeting, Committeeman Matthew Scott, who has worked as a paramedic, said he has heard concerns from the public about “scratched calls” and patients going to the wrong hospitals.

“People outside this room were concerned about the service and they asked us to look into it, and we did a little bit,” Scott said.

In speaking to the leadership of the first aid squad, he raised the question of why it does not expand the “professional” paid service, “just so we know there’s sort of a safety net.”

Nichols said the first aid squad is already paying for the daytime crew.

“We are breaking even on that enterprise,” he said. “Anything beyond what we’re doing now, we would just start hemorrhaging money.”

During a lengthy public comment section of the meeting, George Nikitades, the owner of Teddy’s Restaurant, and his wife, Wendy, shared their experience when their 3-week-old son had a medical emergency.

Wendy Nikitades said, “No one from Cranbury that was on the volunteer squad that night showed up. No one answered that call. To know there were people, volunteers, that just didn’t pick up the phone, didn’t bother to get off their couch, didn’t bother to get in their car. My son had a stroke. It does not sit right with me.”

“And we were the only call that night,” said George Nikitades.