History of the Fanwood Rescue Squad

William Mathews, founder
William Mathews, founder

The Fanwood Rescue Squad was organized in 1948 by members of the Fanwood Volunteer Fire Company who recognized the need for a separate ambulance service for this growing town. To this day the two volunteer services share members, work cooperatively and faithfully serve borough residents.

FOUNDED IN 1948

  At the December 16, 1947, meeting of the Fanwood Volunteer Fire Company, William A. Mathews, later recognized as the father of the rescue squad services in central Jersey and along the shore, raised the subject of the need for an ambulance and rescue squad in the borough. At that time, such services were provided by neighboring communities, particularly Scotch Plains, whose squad had been organized in 1937. Mathews's proposal was accepted after considerable discussion, and the prevailing sentiment was that the squad should be a separate and independent organization, though at the outset it was agreed that the squad would be housed with the Fire Company.

   The first organizational meeting was held a few weeks later on January 29, 1948, and on March 11, they met at the Fire Hall at 130 Watson Road, where they formally adopted the constitution and bylaws. It accepted the charter members and named several honorary members. William Mathews was voted as temporary chairman, and C. Stuart Burns as temporary secretary. See more on the founding including newspaper articles and photos here.

CHARTER MEMBERS

   At its first official meeting, on April 6, 1948, the group elected John Yarnell as president, William Mathews as captain, C. Stuart Burns as first lieutenant, and Ivan L. Hill as secretary-historian.

   Charter members of the Fanwood Rescue Squad are C. Stuart Burns, Roy Coleman, John W. Conk, Pennington Day, James Devine, Jr., George L. Goudy, Ernest Haer, Otto Hansen, William E. Hart, Jr., Ivan L. Hill, Harry Holcomb, John Kraus, Charles LaPlante, William Linde, James A. McCarthy, Walter McCormack, William A. Mathews, Harry S. Mayer, Jr., Harold Millwater, George Pandick, Charles Persson, Earl Phillips, Robert Rau, Charles Rose, Charles Sheelen, Jr., Warren M. Sims, Walter Stocker, Roy J. Tuthill and John Yarnall, Jr.

EARLY RESPONSES

  The squad's first call, on May 7, 1948, was in response to a fall resulting in a head injury. The patient resided only two blocks from the squad building at 219 Paterson Road. The 100th call was answered in the second year of the squad existence; the one thousandth during 1956, and the ten thousandth during 1981. The first child delivered by the squad occurred on March 11, 1960.

AMBULANCE HISTORY (see pictures here)

   The first ambulance, a 1939 LaSalle was put in service in 1948 having been purchased from the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad for $1,000. The first new ambulance was a Miller Meteor Cadillac, acquired in 1951 for $7,778.51. There followed four more Sayer and Scovill Cadillacs in 1956, 1961, 1966 and 1971. In 1977 the first van was purchased, a Dodge prepared by K&S. By this time the number of calls was large enough that "double hits" occurred, necessitating two ambulances. In 1980 the squad put in service a second van, a K&S Chevy Mini-Mod, and the era of the Cadillac was over. 

HEADQUARTERS BUILT  

   With the phase out of the Cadillac type and the introduction of modular or van-style vehicles, the available quarters were too small.  In 1977 several noteworthy events occurred. The squad signed a lease for a parcel of land across Watson Road from the firehouse on property owned by the borough. After arranging for a bank loan to finance a new building with bays for two vehicles, training space and other amenities, ground was broken on March 1, 1977. More on the construction here.

   Many members contributed countless hours of time and effort to complete this job: Bill Crosby and Al Lindgren building committee; Jeff Manuel installed hundreds of feet of electrical wire; Jeff Jasko, Larry Andrews, Mitch Arnold and Pat Governor worked unstintingly on painting; Bill Winey, also a borough council member at this time, contributed countless hours. Special acknowledgment goes to Bob Rau, Sr., whose knowledge of construction contacts and encouragement were significant. Of course the chairman of the building committee, James Russell, made all this happen through his efficient coordination of events.

   On September 25, with the arrival of the First K&S van-style ambulance, the building and ambulance were dedicated. The $30,000 construction note was repaid two years later, on September 14, 1979. Continuing the close ties with the Fire Company, which by now had also moved to new quarters, the Rescue Squad dedicated its latest K&S Chevy Mini-Mod and the Fire Company dedicated two new Mack pumpers with a joint picnic on June 11, 1983, at the new Borough Hall on Martine Avenue.

DISPATCH AND COMMUNICATIONS  

   The manner in which squad members are summoned to calls has undergone considerable change over the past forty years. Initially, members responded to two blasts of the town siren. In February 1960 the squad prepared to order radio alarms for the homes of members on night call so that the siren would not be sounded after 10 or 11 p.m. These first radios were dutifully transferred each Tuesday to the crew coming on call by those whose week of night call had ended. Over the next decade more radio alarms, ultimately the Plectron type, were purchased and in subsequent years these gave way to rechargeable pagers.

   Improved communications also resulted in more equipment being included in the ambulances starting with the first two-way radio purchased on February 3, 1954.

EARLY TRAINING

   Along with upgraded equipment, improved housing and training facilities and better communications gear, members' training levels have advanced. The records are not clear as to the skill level of the initial members, but it is mostly likely they held Red Cross First Aid certification. In September 1957, the Red Cross adopted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. In April 1969, members were certified in defensive driving by a police member who later became Chief of Police. About this time, members also received initial training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. By 1975 EMT training was completed by many members in lieu of Red Cross First Aid, and in 1988 by action of the State First Aid Council, all Red Cross qualified first aiders were awarded EMT status.

   The squad has made considerable effort to maintain the highest skill level of its members and has offered CPR and first aid training to the community at large. Recognition of this effort has come in several ways. In October 1971 the squad received the Donald J. Luther Memorial Award from the State First Aid Council for outstanding first aid at the scene of a call. Two years later the squad was given honorable mention for the Luther Award also for on-the-scene first aid. And in 2001, the squad won the New Jersey Governor's Volunteer Award for Public Safety.

FUNDING

   The Fanwood Rescue Squad has, for most of its history, had a contract with the borough to provide emergency medical services twenty-four hours a day for $1 per year, an arrangement called by many the best bargain in the borough's budget. Voluntary contributions provide operating and capital funds for the squad, and the community has always been generous. Coin Cards, a popular means of fund raising, were first used in 1952. Many memorial or other gifts have also been made. In 1964, the squad announced that sufficient funds were on hand so that no community solicitation would be required that year.

   Although the squad grew out of the Fire Company and perhaps for that reason was initially an all-male organization, there have been and continue to be notable contributions made by the women members. In October 1956 Lillian Huffsmith became the first woman member. The first female officer was Peg Pasko, and women continue to serve in all the executive and operating positions.

   In 1988 four of the original charter members were honored for forty years of service: John Kraus, Earl Phillips, Robert S. Rau, Sr., and Charles Persson. All four were also members of the Volunteer Fire Company, each having served over forty years there as well.

   It is fitting to close this short history of the Rescue Squad by noting the continuing close working relations between the Fire Company and the squad. The Rescue Squad is automatically summoned to structure and vehicle fires. The Fire Company routinely responds to major accidents for assistance in washdown, extrication, emergency lighting and crowd control. Both organizations have had deep and wrenching experiences in some Fanwood's darkest days, such as the fire in 1951 on Martine Avenue (nine firefighters injured) and at Marlou Lights, Inc. (six firefighters injured, $175,000 in damage), a 1961 auto accident resulting in the death of three youths, a 1965 house fire in which a mother and daughter perished, and the 1988 house fire on Trenton Avenue in which Plainfield and Scotch Plains were called for assistance.