Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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First Aid & Rescue Squad Eyes Volunteerism in Carrying on 40-Year In-town Tradition

Matthew Hersh

This is part two in a series on volunteer-based institutions in the Princeton community.

The brick facility on Harrison Street that houses the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad (PFARS) looks all of its 40-plus years. The squad’s trucks have outgrown the facility, with two vehicles parked outside because of lack of space, and the emergency vehicles themselves retrofitted to the measure of slender stalls designed for engines of a different era.

The Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, along with the three Princeton fire companies, is one of the proudest volunteer outfits in Princeton. And lest we forget, as the placard placed on the squad headquarter’s facade reads, PFARS is a necessity for the community.

With Emergency Medical Services Week coming up May 18 through May 24, PFARS is looking to increase public awareness of its role as well as its fund-raising and volunteer recruitment.

A relatively new function of emergency response carries on a service that used to be provided by area funeral homes. Sponsored by the American College of Emergency Physicians, EMS Week looks to draw much-needed attention to rescue squads.

“EMS is fairly new,” said Frank Setnicky, PFARS director and 20-year member of the squad’s day crew. “Fire and police have always been there, but EMS is still considered to be one of the new kids on the block. We have to raise awareness about who we are.”

With annual call volume growth at roughly five percent, and with an average of seven calls per day, often coming in simultaneously, PFARS is one of a handful of long-time, volunteer-based institutions struggling with recruitment in recent years, particularly when it comes to enlisting civilians.

PFARS has benefited from a continually replenished stock of Princeton University students, often pre-med, Mr. Setnicky said, but with increasing administrative demands and increases in call volume, the amount of time available for members to contribute to administrative functions, including fund-raising and recruitment, is decreasing.

Between 1999 and 2007, the number of donors has decreased by nearly 50 percent, with actual dollars raised showing an equally alarming trend. After fund-raising peaked at $180,000 in 2002, funds have steadily declined during that same eight-year time frame, with the squad raising a mere $145,000 in 2007.

The decline forced PFARS to start billing patients’ insurance carriers in January 2006. That billing income, along with fund drive financing and municipal support, makes up the bulk of the squad’s financial foundation.

Meanwhile, PFARS is conducting a feasibility study examining the need for possible expansion of the current 4,600-square-foot headquarters, or even outright relocation. “We’re trying to find out what our space needs will be,” said PFARS Vice President Peter Simon,who added that a “whole gamut of scenarios” is being factored into the study. Mr. Simon did say that the squad would need an estimated 17,000 square feet in a new facility. “We’re still awaiting the results, but basically it’s about rebuilding where we are now, or looking at other pieces of property, and if so, how big do they need to be in order for us to do what we need to do?”

Remaining in a central location, Mr. Simon asserted, is imperative: “If we’re all the way on one corner of town, then response times to the other corner of town will be significantly larger.” Being at a central location, Mr. Setnicky said, could also continue to help with volunteer recruitment from within Princeton. “We need community members; we need people who live in the community to volunteer. The University has been great with the squad, but we need people who live in town,” he said.

As is the case with the Princeton Fire Department, however, finding volunteers for what has traditionally been a blue collar institution gets harder in towns like Princeton, where blue collars are fading fast to white. “It’s a big difficulty, quite honestly,” Mr. Simon said. “If you say ‘the Rescue Squad has 60 volunteers,’ that’s a bit misleading, because many of those 60 are associate volunteers who may only take one shift a month, and most of our volunteers take about five shifts a month. “When you start looking at the number of people who are riding consistently, it’s a smaller number,” Mr. Simon added.


For more information on the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, or to learn more about volunteer possibilities or to donate, call (609) 924-3338, or visit

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