Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad celebrates its 60th anniversary of serving the community this summer. Sis Barker and Betty Bangs, both of whom were members of the Junior League, decided to start a First Aid Squad in Summit. With the blessing of the Junior League, they began their project and enlisted the help of a local Businessman, Michael J. Formichella who used his influence in the community to help organize the Squad. On July 28, 1962 the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad, Inc. was formed.
Overlook Hospital donated its old ambulance which the squad operated for a few months until it was able to purchase a new Cadillac ambulance. The ambulance was housed for a couple of years in Formichella’s garage on Broad Street, and members met and trained in their homes.
A building fund was organized to construct a headquarters for the new Squad. The City of Summit agreed to lease a piece of land on Summit Avenue, across from LCJ Summit Middle School, to the Squad for one dollar per year. Much of the work on the building including excavating, plumbing, heating and electrical was either donated or performed by volunteers. Among the charter members of the Squad were an excavator, Mike Formichella; a mason contractor, Andy Soccodato; and a heating contractor, Jim Burns. Construction was completed in 1964.
Since those humble beginnings sixty years ago, the Squad has expanded to provide emergency services 24/7 to Summit and surrounding communities. No one has ever received a bill for Squad services. The Squad relies exclusively upon donations from private citizens and foundations, receiving no funding from the City of Summit. All Squad members are volunteers, who seek no compensation for providing help to their neighbors when it is needed most.
John Staunton joined the Squad over 30 years ago shortly after returning home from Villanova University. He had some first aid experience as a lifeguard instructor and gained interest in EMS after witnessing an accident involving a friend at school. EMS has been like a second career for John, as his “day job” has been primarily as an engineer. He became a CPR and then an EMT Instructor at a young age and has served in multiple positions over the years, including as President and currently Chief. “Serving on the Summit First Aid Squad has been a great experience where I’ve made some lifelong friends and had the chance to help many neighbors as well as perfect strangers. What I like most about the Squad is how people from various backgrounds and walks of life can work together so effectively to fulfill such a vital mission”. The lifesaving skills Squad members learn can also be very valuable in everyday life and John has had several instances where that experience helped family, friends and co-workers.
Mel Harari, joined the Squad 14 years ago in July 2008 and has been the Records Lieutenant since 2009. She moved to the United States from Argentina in 2001. Without any prior medical experience, Mel attended EMT school that fall. Two of Mel’s sons were junior members, both of whom became doctors, thought she would enjoy becoming a volunteer. “I’m not sure if they hadn’t been members of the squad, they would have become doctors. Being on the Squad was a big exposure to the healthcare industry for them.” During Mel’s years at the Squad, she said she gained a level of empathy and understanding for individuals with physical issues that she never had before. “I am now able to put myself in the position as a patient. My experiences helped me tremendously when my mother was ill. My knowledge assisted me in making decisions regarding my mother’s care.” “The level of commitment people have here is not seen in other squads. I like the people I work with. We have good challenges and conversations among a group who is wise and listens to one another.”
An EMT since 2021, Mateo Zoubek joined the squad at age 17 as a member of the junior program. Mateo, a student at Newark Academy, was interested in possibly pursuing medicine as a career option and wanted experience in the field. Mateo attended EMT school during the summer of 2021 and found the course much easier since he was familiar with equipment and had basic knowledge of patient assessments. “I was exposed to being an EMT even though I wasn’t one. You absorb the information which makes becoming certified much easier.” He decided to take a gap year after high school to obtain hands-on experience as an EMT to expand upon the limited patient interaction received as a junior member. “Joining the squad is a great way to serve the community and obtain experience in the medical field I wouldn’t otherwise have. I think it’s been a great stepping stone for my career choice. For adults who aren’t in the same career-choice position as I am, I think it’s a great way to serve the community in a productive manner.” Mateo is attending Georgetown University majoring in neurobiology.
Jenny McIlwain first joined the Squad as a member of the junior program the summer after her sophomore year at Summit High School. She thought it would be a good indicator in determining if she wanted to go into medicine or not. “I think I had the best training during my time as a junior. Every single shift we would practice skills and training. By the time I got to EMT school, I had a leg up on everyone else because I learned so much before going in.” Jenny completed EMT school in June 2021 and is majoring in neuroscience at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Joining the Squad family was the right move for them, and it could be for you as well. As the Squad begins its seventh decade of selfless service, we are actively seeking new members to our winning team. Our members include men and women of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds united by a strong desire to help others. Most people who join the Squad have had no prior medical experience. Neighbors Helping Neighbors is both our motto and our mission. Fulfilling it is an incredible experience that’s hard to match. To help assess whether one is interested in joining the Squad, we offer an observer program that allows prospective volunteers to accompany a working crew for a shift or two. These “Ride-Along” opportunities give the experience of what being a first responder is like before any commitment is made. For more information, or to inquire about joining our winning team, please visit our website, summitems.org/join.