Time, not spirit, the problem

Princeton Packet
Guest opinion
October 18, 1978

Time, not spirit, the problem

The following “guest opinion” was written in response to an editorial in the Oct. 11 Packet concerning the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad. It was submitted by Suzanne C. Neilson, secretary for the squad.


The “spirit of volunteerism” is still burning strong at the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad. That the writer at the Princeton Packet has derived otherwise from recent efforts of PFARS to acquire paid personnel for daytime emergency service is an indication of the misconception of the spirit and efforts of the squad.

The members of PFARS are volunteers, meaning just that. Of 33 senior members, 33 are serving the squad as an avocation, thus squad needs must be met in spare time. Ten years ago membership on a rescue squad was a simpler bill to fill. It is said that then anyone with a lot of good will and a little first aid training could transport people to the hospital. In 1978, however, state-wide emergency health care standards are higher, as indeed they should be.

Now a squad member must have at least 50 hours of basic first aid training to function as an active member with about 20 hours of refreshment courses per year. To become a paramedic, so that we may provide advanced life support, for which we are equipped, takes a minimum of 500 hours of training. Once on the squad, there are monthly drills and meetings, weekly and weekend sleep-in duty nights, and the task of learning how to utilize literally hundreds of pieces of equipment and handle radios, the ambulance, and, most important, the patient.

With this intensity of training, it still takes about one year of 100 calls, representing hundreds of hours of time on the ambulance, to become experienced enough to command a call. In short, membership, and more importantly, well-trained membership, on PFARS takes a sizable amount of time and devotion in 1978, and because of this, many people are unable to join, or are forced to quit.

Despite the amount of time involved, the squad could still function if not for the inevitable aspect of volunteerism–75 percent of the members are working full time at paying jobs during the day and thus cannot take daytime calls. The other 25 percent are full-time students or working full time at night. This leaves the community with chancy protection during the daytime five days per week, and, almost assuredly, without advanced life support (paramedic aid).

We have been cited for needing to step up recruiting efforts, particularly to women, to alleviate this problem. The squad has actively recruited people of both sexes for almost two years, as well as conducted one campaign aimed directly at recruiting women. As a result the squad is now approximately 25 percent women, all of whom work full time. They are ‘‘public spirited women volunteers” as The Packet editorialist suggested, but are no more available daytime than are the men. The Packet editorialist has not considered that in light of the changing society, there are few women remaining who are either unemployed in the office or at home.

His reference to the women being valuable members in the day for other squads is true enough, but these squads as well are having problems finding enough free women to meet their community’s daytime needs. As a result, half of the county’s squads now have two paid daytime people. Our lack of daytime people is not at all a lack of “public spirited women volunteers,” previous policies toward women, or volunteer spirit, but a situation of the times.

The issue of professionalism arises, and the question must be asked, what is the quality of emergency health care that Princeton demands? Princeton has always boasted one of the top rescue squads in the state, and the members are proud of this heritage and wish to uphold it. It is precisely the pride and concern that we have in the squad and for the health of the community that causes us to ask for the help of paid professionals during the daytime when we as volunteers cannot carry the full burden. We do not wish to see inferior care rendered during the daytime or bear the doubts in our minds that a person may have lived had we been able to mobilize a crew at the time his accident occurred.

It is discouraging to this squad member, as well as to many others, to have her efforts and devotion termed “dimming volunteerism” by The Packet’s editorialist. When a community service as important as first aid and rescue can no longer be met full time by volunteers because of higher standards and a changing society, this must be recognized and- dealt with as the issue.

The squad is not eager to forfeit its independence by using tax dollars, but if it is contingent on the quality of health care and the saving of even one more life, that is the road we must choose.

Women welcome

Editor, The Packet :

As president of Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad, I would like to thank your paper for the interest it has shown recently in relating our needs to the community.

I would also like to comment on your editorial in last week’s edition regarding the squad’s position towards women. The squad feels part of the article may be misleading.

Women were admitted to our squad in March of 1977; this action came about one year prior to the end of our court case. As it stands now the case was dropped by the courts as a moot question since we had already admitted women. Feelings of resistance towards women members are nonexistent and the fact that women are welcome should be known by all.

We have appealed to women in the past and our more recent articles have asked for both men and women to assist us. This reflects the squad’s attitude … we are comprised of members, not men and women.

Our standards, which are high, have been set by the squad and by law. They are above the scope of-most volunteer opportunities. Minimum training at this point takes almost 100 hours of a person’s free time. The big requirement, of course, is daytime availability. But additional members will not solve the problem immediately; it takes six months to a year for a new member to complete training and to gain the necessary field experience.

This problem is serious and an answer must be found quickly. We have appealed to women, to men, to local employers to let people leave work; none of these had a significant effect.

Due to the scope of this problem we open it to the whole community.

Mark Freda
Princeton First Aid and
Rescue Squad


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