Ambulance members on call for 75 years

By Megan Burrow, Managing Editor
Teaneck Suburbanite, July 17, 2014, p. 1


Three Teaneck rigs cruise down the local streets during a holiday parade.The Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC) was formed 75 years ago, in the summer of 1939, by a group of members of the Teaneck Volunteer Fire Department’s Hose Company No. 4. Since then, the township has grown from about 24,000 residents to nearly 40,000, and the ambulance corps has grown to more than 100 members, continuing its mission of providing 24 hour a day service.

According to Larry Robertson, the township historian and a 38-year member of the ambulance corps, there was no ambulance service of any kind in Bergen County until 1888. Then, Englewood and Hackensack hospitals began providing service, but it was only available to patients of doctors affiliated with those hospitals. When Holy Name Hospital opened in 1925, it also provided affiliated ambulance service. In 1939, when TVAC was formed, its mission was very much in line with its mission today: to provide first aid or transport to a hospital for anyone who became ill or injured in Teaneck.

It began operating that August, and its first patient was a person on South Hemlock Terrace experiencing a stroke.

"In those days the ambulance did only a few hundred runs a year," said Robertson. "There were only about 25 members and only one vehicle, a 1936 LaSalle."

Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps members wash one of its vehicles in 1939.Although TVAC had just one ambulance, it had two stations. During the night, the ambulance was housed in a vacant fire station on South Hemlock Terrace and Glenwood Avenue in Teaneck, which was in the neighborhood where many of its members lived in at the time. During the day, the ambulance was parked in a garage near the municipal building because many of the members were municipal employees.

"Actually that arrangement resulted in fast response times because that’s where the members were," Robertson said. "At that time no one staffed the ambulance corps building."

In 1949, the headquarters was moved to Teaneck Road, and members were called at home by telephone when there was an emergency. This arrangement caused delays, said Robertson, and residents realized they needed a building that could be staffed. In 1968, TVAC obtained the property where the headquarters now stands on Windsor Road, which was used as a railroad passenger parking lot, and a new building was constructed.

TVAC has received some major calls over its 75 years. In 1946, the ambulance corps responded to a supermarket fire on Cedar Lane where 50 firefighters were injured because they didn’t have enough breathing apparatus.

In 1972, there was a fire on the north side of Cedar Lane at a swimming pool supply store. The chemical chlorine was involved and about 50 firefighters were injured. In 1977, there was a leak from a tank car parked on the railroad tracks. More than 50 patients, mostly residents of the area, were treated for inhalation of anhydrous ammonia. Then in June of 1984, a bus overturned near where Route 80 and I-95 meet and about 25 people were injured.

"We’ve had some challenging calls," said Robertson. "About 17 percent of our runs are traffic accidents and most of our calls are for elderly people, many living alone without a lot of family support."

Past President Angelae Wilkerson said in the 12 years she has been a member, calls have increased to nearly 4,400 a year, making TVAC one of the busiest volunteer ambulance corps in the area. Most members come from Teaneck, but others travel from towns like Nutley, Garfield and Clifton to volunteer with TVAC, drawn to the organization because of its reputation.

"There are people from all walks of life here," she said. "Some are going into the medical profession, there are teachers, firefighters. It’s a nice little extended family."

Marriages have even resulted from volunteering with the organization. "Lots of members have been here for a long time, met good friends and even husbands and wives here," said Wilkerson.

"Because it’s a busy, busy place, people who really want to do EMS are encouraged to come here, because it’s not boring. We get calls 14, 15 times a day," said Robertson.

The average response time for calls is just 6.5 minutes and last year there were only 70 calls where a patient in Teaneck was brought by some other ambulance to the hospital.

Residents can begin volunteering at 16 years of age. After they join, members must become certified EMTs and also complete an internal training program and take a qualifying test. Although the minimum time on duty is four hours a week, most members give a lot more than that, said Robertson.

Deputy Mayor Elie Katz joined at 15 and has been on more than 2,500 calls. "It’s a nice mix of the entire town. It really brings everyone together," he said of the organization. "Over the years it has taught me a lot about people and about responsibility. It’s a great opportunity to meet people and help the entire community."

The department is celebrating the 75th anniversary Aug. 14, with a gala at World of Wings on Windsor Road.

Every year TVAC honors a person or organization that demonstrates a spirit of community service. At the August celebration, the organization will honor the residents of Five Star Premier Residences of Teaneck, who have supported the ambulance corps with more than $250,000 in donations over the years from special in-house fundraisers.