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(Photo courtesy of Chief Greg Paulson)

REMEMBERING A MILESTONE: Frank Setnicky (left) and Jay Padulchick (right) have served on the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad's Day Crew for 18 and 15 years, respectively. The Squad's Day Crew is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. This week is also the Annual Emergency Medical Services Week.

First Aid Squad's Day Crew Celebrates its 25th Anniversary

Candace Braun

The Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its Day Crew program this month, a program which made the Squad a more responsive, more readily-available service for the Princeton community.

The program has given the Squad the much-needed paid support staff to help respond to calls during daytime hours, when many volunteers are unavailable or at work, said Squad Chief Greg Paulson. In 2004 the Squad answered upwards of 2,300 calls for service with an average response time of five minutes, a 28 percent increase over the past five years.

While the Squad now has two paid employees, it served its first four decades on a completely volunteer staff, answering hundreds of calls each year, said Chief Paulson. Organized in 1939, the Squad moved into its current headquarters next to the Princeton Shopping Center in 1963. The Squad has served not only Princeton but also surrounding communities such as West Windsor and Kingston.

Before the Day Crew, all the Squad's members had to juggle work and family obligations to ensure that emergency ambulance and technical rescue services were available to Princeton residents, said Chief Paulson: "People who worked in town would literally walk away from their jobs to respond to a call."

With rising call volumes and increasing demands for members to work to support their families, the Squad began to struggle to meet the demands of the community. Following a failed recruitment campaign in 1977 and 1978, the Squad investigated possible solutions to the staffing problem by forming a committee, which included members of Borough Council and Township Committee.

In the end the committee recommended that the municipalities fund a paid Day Crew that would be hired and administered by the Squad. The program went into service and took its first call on May 5, 1980. In its first year with the Day Crew, the Squad responded to approximately 900 calls.

The Crew's History

From the beginning, the Day Crew successfully met the needs of the Squad and community, said Chief Paulson. It was a milestone in the history of First Aid Squads, as Princeton was the first in the area to have a Day Crew working directly with the Squad, rather than working through the municipality. This helped create a community within the Squad.

"We actually get phone calls from all over the state to find out how we set up our program," said Chief Paulson.

Success did not come easily, however. Within the first two years the Squad had to repeatedly petition the municipalities for money to pay the employees. Not getting the desired feedback, the Squad gave its two paid crew members six weeks notice in August of 1981.

Public outcry helped convince the municipalities to continue funding the program through the end of 1981, but ongoing financial uncertainty forced the resignation of one of the original crew members, who cited the stress of the yearly debates about whether or not he was going to lose his job.

In the spring of 1982, a final agreement to continue funding the Day Crew program was approved by the Squad and both the municipalities. Under that agreement, the Borough and Township would fund one-third and two-thirds of the program's costs respectively. All monies given to the Squad are maintained in a separate account from the rest of the Squad's funds and cover the salaries, benefits, uniforms, and training of the Day Crew employees.

All other expenses, including the purchase of ambulances, supplies, insurance, and all other costs associated with operating the Squad, are paid out of the Squad's general operating fund, which is completely supported by donations.

Subhead: Day Crew Members

Over the 25 years of its existence, the Day Crew has only had seven different employees. Today those employees are Frank Setnicky and Jay Padulchick, the longest riding members of the Day Crew, having served for 18 and 15 years respectively. Keeping the same Day Crew over the years benefits the Squad tremendously, said Chief Paulson, as they offer their knowledge and experience to the newer volunteers in the Squad, particularly those who come help out from Princeton University. Students account for one-third of the Squad, said the chief, who also began as a volunteer student 11 years ago, and has served as chief for the past six years.

Mr. Setnicky's career in EMS began at age 14, when he joined the Amwell Valley Ambulance Corps. He served with Pattenburg Rescue Squad from 1982 until 1984, when he joined Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad. Mr. Setnicky has since served as chief at Clinton for nine years. His continued service to Princeton's Squad makes him the most tenured employee in the squad's history, said Chief Paulson.

Mr. Padulchick started his career in EMS in 1981 with the Yardville First Aid Squad, and then with Nottingham Ambulance Squad, where he worked for nine years and also served as captain. He came to Princeton in 1989, and in addition to his EMS and rescue duties, he manages all purchasing and equipment maintenance for the Squad and has served as one of the water rescue instructors.

These two men are essential both to the Squad's current operations as well as to the training and mentorship of new volunteer EMTs, said Chief Paulson: "Setnicky and Padulchick work side-by-side with the Squad's nearly 50 volunteer members, providing dedicated, skilled, and compassionate emergency care to the Princeton community."

While members of the Day Crew are paid, formally trained employees, anyone can volunteer, said Chief Paulson: "We're always looking to recruit more people from town. All you need is the interest; we provide the equipment and training."

For information on how to volunteer or how to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.pfars.org, or call (609) 924-3338.

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