Mahwah’s Ambulance building on Franklin Turnpike, usually filled with life-saving equipment, is empty. But, EMS officials say it hasn't impaired their ability to respond to emergencies.
Members of Mahwah Emergency Medical Services, Inc. – the all-volunteer not-for-profit organization that took over ambulance services in the township two weeks ago, say about half a dozen exempt members of Company 1 completely emptied out the Ambulance Corps. building, and two of its rigs, Tuesday – packing up everything from bandages, stretchers, and defibrillators to couches, desks, and office equipment – and taking it in moving vans to a storage facility.
MEMS was left with an empty facility, and two empty ambulances that needed to be totally restocked with all emergency care equipment.
“Everything was apparently cleaned out in a few hours,” MEMS Chief Liz Villano said. “It’s kind of like getting married and moving into a new house and realizing that you have nothing and need everything. And, we didn’t have a shower.”
According to township officials, the ambulances and building belong to the township, but the contents of both were purchased by Company 1, a separate non-profit entity, so voting members of that organization may have been within their legal rights to clear out the property.
“I’m horrified that six angry members of Company 1 could put at risk the lives of 28,000 residents,” Mayor Bill Laforet – who decided to replace the dual-agency system with MEMS – said. “It was shocking.”
EMS volunteers say they are also unsure what will happen to the $400,000 Company 1 has built up in donations.
At a township council meeting earlier this month, Company 1 President Michele O’Toole said instead of donating the money to MEMS, she might decide to instead donate it to Valley Hospital.
O’Toole refused to comment to Patch Wednesday about the money, or the decision to remove all of the property from the Company 1 building and ambulances. Calls to Company 1’s Vice President and lawyer were not answered.
The 63 volunteer members of MEMS filled the two ambulances with equipment from the former Company 4 location, and donations and loans from other nearby corps, Bergen County EMS, and the New Jersey State First Aid Council.
MEMS also received monetary donations from its members and Ramapo College to use as a temporary operating budget. The new company will soon receive funds previously collected by Company 4, members said.
“I am concerned about the money, because residents donated in the spirit of wanting to help provide ambulance service to the community,” Laforet said.
But MEMS members stressed that the most important thing was that services were not affected by the loss in equipment.
“We did not miss a call,” MEMS Treasurer Walt Seaman said.
“I want to ensure our community that ambulance response will not be affected by this unfortunate development,” MEMS President Bob Klingon added. “We were prepared for this possibility and were able to quickly restock the two ambulances that were stripped of equipment and supplies. At no time did we allow ambulance response to be jeopardized.”
Members say having to restock the building has inspired them to be more dedicated to the new organization.
“The heart and soul [of the ambulance corps] are the people, and we have them,” Seaman said. “These are just the material things, and we can replace those.”
He added, “there is a very positive mood here. This is really just incentive for us to work harder and get the job done.”
MEMS members say they are collecting donations to help build up the new company. Any donations can be mailed to Mahwah Emergency Medical Services at PO Box 551, Mahwah.
“We could always use more volunteers,” Villano said. “Drivers, EMTs, anything that people can give.”
Get more information about volunteering with MEMS at its website.