In the beginning…
The Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad had its beginnings in early 1938, with the formation of a first aid committee by Princeton Engine Company No. 1. Chaired by John J. Golden, the committee was charged with establishing a first aid training program. The initial series of instruction, organized by Elmer Rodweller, was led by Dr. Roger Evan and began on January 11, 1939. More than forty members of the Princeton Fire and Police Departments and employees of Princeton University's Physical Plant were trained in first aid procedures by William Sandhoff, Joseph Herrity and Frank Piffath.
On April 29, 1939, the First Aid Unit of Princeton Engine Company No. 1 was officially formed. Headquartered at the Chestnut Street firehouse, it operated out of a station wagon stocked with first aid supplies donated by Johnson & Johnson. Financial assistance was provided by the Fire Company and other interested individuals.
On March 5, 1940, the Princeton Engine Company No. 1 First Aid Unit was incorporated with John J. Golden serving as the first president. That July, the First Aid Unit joined the New Jersey State First Aid Council's Second District, becoming that organization's eightieth member squad. The Unit's first ambulance, a 1941 Cadillac, was purchased the following year from Southard S. Mather at a cost of $3,500. The new ambulance made its debut at the annual July 4th fireworks display at Princeton University’s Palmer Stadium. Following the vehicle's commissioning, First Aid Unit members began sleeping-in at the firehouse to ensure the availability of prompt, 24-hour coverage for the greater Princeton area at no cost to the patient. Shortly thereafter, the ambulance services offered since 1926 by local funeral directors, Ralph E. Kimble and Southard S. Mather, were discontinued. Those services had charged patients up to five dollars for a trip to the hospital; but these services had been provided out of necessity not as a business.
Declining membership through the war years prompted the First Aid Unit to open its ranks to those outside Engine Company No. 1. In the Fall of 1941, Albert Toto became the first non-firefighter member of the First Aid Unit. Calls continued to increase in number and additional equipment became necessary. By September 1941, the First Aid Unit had responded to 30 calls, driven 400 miles, and logged 70 man-hours. The number of calls grew to 85 by November and continued to grow into the next year with the First Aid Unit responding to 279 calls and traveling 4,089 miles in 1942.
Contributions from local citizens and business groups became the primary means of financing equipment purchases and associated maintenance costs. The initial fund raising effort in 1941 had brought in $4,200. By 1951, the original ambulance required replacing, and a Packard ambulance was purchased from John Sylvester at a cost of $7,345. In that year, the First Aid Unit answered 534 calls for service and its members donated 1,362 hours to the community.
Following the tragic drowning of Township Patrolman Billie D. Ellis on Lake Carnegie in August of 1955, the Lions Club of Princeton donated a fourteen-foot boat, trailer and water rescue/recovery equipment. A year later, twenty-six Princeton residents, led by H. C. Sturhahn, donated a fully-equipped Ford Stand-Up Van. Dedicated on April 18, 1957, it became the First Aid Unit's first rescue truck.
On May 20, 1957, the First Aid Unit was renamed the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad, Incorporated, and became one of the first rescue units in New Jersey.
In May of 1960, PFARS added a custom-built Lincoln ambulance to the fleet. The vehicle, purchased from the Nassau-Conover Ford car dealership and manufactured by Ford Motor Company, was a prototype for future ambulance manufacturing, but was eventually replaced in 1962 by a Cadillac because of extensive electrical problems. Later that year, on August 26, 1960, the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad was incorporated. The Ladies originally supported PFARS with logistical support on protracted calls and raised money to make donations to PFARS.
Further equipment acquisitions necessitated a larger facility, so in 1961, PFARS purchased land for a new building on the corner of Clearview Avenue and North Harrison Street. Contracts were signed in 1962 with architect George F. Lewis and the Lewis C. Bowers Construction Company, and ground was broken. In May of 1963, PFARS left Engine Company No. 1 and moved into the new headquarters. The building was dedicated on April 12, 1964, and the $75,000 Building Fund Drive was achieved.
As the surrounding area grew, and before neighboring communities founded squads of their own, PFARS answered calls within a one-hundred square mile area, covering Princeton, Kingston, Kendall Park, Plainsboro, and parts of East Windsor, West Windsor, Lawrence and Montgomery Townships.
A new $35,000 rescue truck, custom built by Swab Wagon Company, was dedicated on October 1, 1969, and replaced the 1957 Ford Stand-Up Van.
In 1970, PFARS purchased the first modular-type ambulance manufactured by Swab Wagon Company. This new ambulance design significantly increased the storage and workspace in the back of the vehicle. The improvements in patient care and rescuer safety afforded by this design quickly made it an industry standard.
In 1974, a Chevrolet Blazer four-wheel drive vehicle was added to the fleet. As the equipment inventory and number of vehicles grew to meet the increasing needs of the Princeton community, PFARS contracted with Boice-Steward Construction Company to build an addition to the Squad house. The 1974 project added a larger bay for the rescue truck, and marked the last expansion to the building.
In 1976, Pat Bodine, Antonia Bogart and Suzanne Neilson became the first female members of PFARS. In 1977, the Lifemobile Program was activated, establishing Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad as an Advanced Life Support (ALS) provider. J. Edwin Obert, Jr. (MICP #0123), the first PFARS paramedic, was on the first PFARS ALS call in November 1977.
In March of 1980, PFARS purchased another ambulance (G. M. Wolf Modular) for $47,000, bringing the total number to three. Decreased availability of members to respond to daytime calls prompted the initiation of the paid day crew program on May 4, 1980. Diran Dermen and Tom Krisanda became the first full-time employees of PFARS. The municipally-funded day crew program guaranteed daytime ambulance coverage for the Princeton community, a problem that had plagued PFARS since its inception. The program was made possible through the efforts of PFARS members (led by Mark Freda and J. Edwin Obert, Jr.), the Joint First Aid Committee (PFARS members, Borough and Township elected officials and local citizens), the Princeton Medical Center and other concerned local citizens. Increasing numbers of calls and miles driven by the Lifemobile necessitated its replacement in 1984 with a third modular-type G. M. ambulance purchased from East Coast Emergency Vehicle Builders, Inc. at a cost of $52,000.
Adoption of the county-wide paid paramedic program in 1985 resulted in a decline in the number of ALS calls received by PFARS, and an eventual return over the next two years to solely Basic Life Support (BLS) care provision. During that same period, PFARS met the State's enhanced training standards by certifying its riding members as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
The fleet replacements occurred in 1988, with the acquisition of a $61,000 modular ambulance from P. L. Custom Body, and a $9,000 Zodiac inflatable pontoon boat with a 30HP motor.
In 1991 PFARS replaced the Swab rescue truck with a Mack MR vehicle custom built by PL Custom Body. The new rescue truck was designed to be a self-sufficient unit carrying a command and dispatch center, equipment for vehicle extrication, confined space rescue, ice and water rescue, fireground support, air bottle filling and a 6,000-watt light tower.
Further changes to State protocols allowed PFARS to be trained and carry cardiac defibrillators (previously only an ALS skill). On April 29, 1993 at 2:23 in the afternoon, the Day Crew and five volunteer members responded to a call for a "possible heart attack" in Palmer Square. On that call, they became the second BLS crew in New Jersey to save a life using the new defibrillators. That patient walked out of the hospital two weeks later. Since that time, PFARS has carried defibrillators on all its apparatus.
In 1997, the Utility vehicle was engulfed in rising waters during a flood, necessitating the purchase and outfitting of a 1997 GMC Suburban as a replacement. The four-wheel drive vehicle is designed transport patients in off-road terrain, tow the eight-man Zodiac boat and serve as a mobile command post. In 1999, PFARS modified a former police car for use as a first-response vehicle.
In 2001, Princeton University donated an American LaFrance MedicMaster ambulance built on a Freightliner truck chassis. The ambulance it replaced was converted to a Special Services unit to carry equipment for Mass Casualty Incidents, and provide personnel rehabilitation at fire scenes and other large-scale responses. That same year, PFARS replaced its water rescue craft with a Zodiac inflatable boat, 50 horsepower motor and rapid deployment trailer for $12,500. In 2002 the first response vehicle was replaced by another former police car, and a year later the Mack rescue truck was replaced with a safer, larger Pierce Enforcer Stainless Steel Rescue Truck for $430,000.
PFARS began hosting EMT-Basic training courses in 2003. New members trained through this class have found they are more quickly able to orient themselves to PFARS operations and earn promotion within our system. The year 2003 marked the first time the call volume surpassed 2,000, as PFARS answered 2,113 calls for service.
Due to ever increasing financial pressures and a number of years where the fund drive returns and donors declined, PFARS started billing patients’ insurance carriers on January 1, 2006. The decision to bill was not easy and was extensively discussed and reviewed within the organization for close to two years before it was instituted. In 2006, the two municipalities also capped their donations to the paid Day Crew program at 2005 levels and subsequently reduced them in 2009. Despite declines in fund drive donations and reductions in municipal support, these sources of funding remain as important as the revenue from patients’ insurance companies.
With a several year trend of call volume increasing at 10% per year, changes to the PFARS Day Crew program were needed. In 2007 a third paid day crew member was added, extending the day crew schedule to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Faced with increased demands on the time of its volunteer officers to run the organization PFARS hired a paid Director of Operations on January 1, 2007. The first (and current) Director of Operations is Frank Setnicky, a 20-year member of the paid day crew before he took on this new role. With call volumes still increasing leading to many second and third simultaneous calls during day time hours, PFARS added a second day crew in July of 2008, bringing us to five full time paid EMTs. .
On April 28, 2007, PFARS became the first basic life support agency in New Jersey to use a non-prescribed auto-injecting epinephrine syringe (“Epi Pen®”) to save the life of a two-year-old boy who had a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. The call took place just eight days after PFARS, one of the first agencies in the state, was authorized to carry the devices.
In 2008, PFARS replaced two of its ambulances with ones built on a Ford chassis by Horton Emergency Vehicles. Though only scheduled to purchase one vehicle, the second-due ambulance was unreliable and frequently needed maintenance, necessitating its replacement. The combined cost for the vehicles was $335,789.
Also in 2008, PFARS was named Outstanding Public EMS Agency by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Office of Emergency Medical Services. PFARS was recognized for its extensive training program, dedicated personnel, and capabilities in emergency medical and technical rescue services.
Today, PFARS’ membership consists of over 90 people from many different walks of life. To ensure the delivery of rapid and skillful emergency care, crews are scheduled in the station 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with off-duty members available by pager to respond to additional calls or large-scale incidents.
The current fleet of apparatus includes three modular ambulances, a technical rescue truck, a four-wheel drive utility vehicle, an eight-man Zodiac boat, a special services and rehab vehicle and a first-response car.
As the demand for PFARS’ services grows, so too must the organization. PFARS is actively working to secure property for a new headquarters. A capital campaign for the new building is being planned, and PFARS is optimistic that the community will respond to its need for financial support, similarly to the way it has for the past 70 years.
Though the apparatus and individuals have changed, the goal remains the same - serving the Princeton community with the highest quality of emergency medical and technical rescue service. It is only through the efforts of generations of capable members and the support of a grateful community that PFARS has been able to celebrate such a proud history.