Benefit for Montclair Ambulance Unit
Featuring The Monties
and DJ Cotter
Saturday, July 13, 8 p.m.
138 Valley Road
$12, all proceeds go to the
Montclair Ambulance Unit
By GWEN OREL
The night that Jill Rockwitz went into labor at 25 weeks and began hemorrhaging at home, an ambulance arrived quickly to take her to the hospital. But her baby, left behind to wait for another truck from a neighboring town, suffered brain damage, and then died. The paramedics cannot treat two critical patients at the same time.
That same night in October 2018, Anthea King-Pascual’s child had a seizure. Because the 24/7 truck run by the Montclair Ambulance Unit was in service, King-Pascual had to wait 26 minutes for a truck from a neighboring town.
A relatively recent transplant from New York — she moved here in 2016 — King-Pascual assumed ambulances were always available within a few minutes.
But this is not always true, either in Manhattan or in Montclair.
While response time according to the Montclair Ambulance Unit is four to seven minutes, if a car is in use, MAU dispatches the call to a neighboring town.
King-Pascual and Rockwitz later found one another on Facebook, and banded together with Jackie Resnick, to form the Montclair Ambulance Advocacy Group. Resnick had also had an experience of calling 911 for her son having a severe allergic reaction, and had to wait for an ambulance from a neighboring town.
Montclair Ambulance Advocacy seek money to staff the second truck, so that two of MAU’s three trucks can be more available at peak hours. Right now, one ambulance runs all the time, while the other runs 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday only.
King-Pascual said that Montclairites may assume the MAU is funded by their tax dollars, but they are not.
“People do not realize they are underfunded and struggling for funds,” she said. “The care we are getting is exceptional, but we need the funding to hire them.”
They are holding a fundraiser with a “dad band,” the Monties, at Tierney’s Tavern this Saturday, July 13, and the event has a Facebook page. MAA also has they a GoFundMe page, which would staff another truck.
As its website still indicates, mvau.org, the ambulance unit, like those in many New Jersey towns, used to be volunteer. Though its EMTs are now paid, the MAU is not part of Montclair’s town budget, but is funded through donation and insurance reimbursement. (and whatever insurance does not pay never gets billed to citizens, according to MAU Chairman of the Board Doug Kaplan).
The night of their medical emergencies last year, MAU crews followed all the protocols, King-Pascual was quick to say. The women agree that the baby would have a hard fight anyway, but getting her to the hospital sooner would have helped her chances.
When the women connected they decided to do something, rather than just move on from their unhappy experiences.
“It gave us the fuel to really do something about it,” King-Pascual said. “As concerned citizens we just all are on board. For the children, for the elderly for any citizen in Montclair who needs emergency help, it’s too long to wait.”
GETTING AWARENESS OUT
The Montclair Ambulance Unit, a non-profit organization, is on board with MAA’s goals. Although MAU used to be wholly volunteer, it now employs trained emergency medical technicians, who are paid. MAU transitioned from volunteer to paid staff in 2008, and employs 36 career EMTs. Each truck has two certified EMTs on it.
MAU answered 3,513 calls last year, and has a budget of $1 million. If the MAA were to reach its fundraising goal, it could the ambulance unit to answer as many as 1,000 more calls.
Ashley Vegilante, chief of emergency operations, said that the number of calls answered by mutual aid trucks was 273, less than 8 percent of the total volume of calls for 2018. The highest volume of calls answered by mutual aid were between 6 p.m. and midnight, though most of the calls answered by MAU were during the hours when there are already two trucks running.
But the goal is not necessarily to have two trucks running full-time.
Councilman-at-large and deputy mayor Rich McMahon, who also serves as vice chairman of the MAU, explained that peak hours will differ depending on the time of year. In the fall, for example, Saturday football games have a high call volume. “Crews on at 4 a.m. on Monday don’t make much sense,” McMahon said.
The MAU will often stage a truck by the Wellmont or at a football game when there is an event.
“In the middle of most nights, one truck is generally adequate, though things happen,” he said. “We’d like to have more for peak times. That’s where people can be very helpful.”
New York City has a different system than Montclair, combining ambulances and the fire department, although there too it’s not unheard of to wait an hour or more for an ambulance. And if the fire department and the ambulance were combined, the staff would have to be cross-trained, McMahon pointed out.
The MAU’s four-minute response time, said McMahon, is “as good as it gets. You’re not likely to get that in New York.”
People are also taken to the hospital most appropriate for their injury, which may not always be the closest one. Someone who’s had a serious car accident would be taken to UMDNJ in Newark, which has a strong trauma center. Someone who’s been in a fire would be taken to St. Barnabas in Short Hills.
“UMDNJ sees a bunch of bullet wounds a day. Mountainside frankly doesn’t. Our EMTs do a lot of work for UMDNJ,” McMahon said.
He stressed that despite a possible wait if a truck is in service, people should not drive themselves to the hospital if they’ve been seriously injured.
“The ambulance has equipment to sustain you to get you to the right place,” he said.
And the MAU trucks are equipped with Epipens for allergies.
However, Resnick said that when she called the MAU, a police officer came to her house and told her it would be faster for her to drive her son to Mountainside than to wait for the ambulance from a neighboring town. But she did not want her son taken to Mountainside.
McMahon said that some towns fund their ambulance units through the township, that would add to the town budget and ultimately create issues, he said.
“We need to get awareness of the unit out there,” Kaplan said. “Now it’s not something that’s on people’s radar. If we get it there, that will take what this advocacy group has started and build on that to where we are able to fund full additional coverage.”
MAU owns three trucks, because one must always be in reserve. But McMahon understands the frustration.
“When your child is in trouble, you want them there yesterday. You can’t always be prepared for the worst,” he said.
A nurse told Resnick about “the golden hour,” the hour after a serious injury where intervention can be the most useful. Waiting 25 minutes for the ambulance and another 15 to get to a hospital comes close to that hour, she said.
More money to staff the trucks, she said, could “put people in a situation where the outcome could be different.”