Back

From The Teaneck 100 Year Book, pp. 50-53

The Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps

In the summer of 1939, a group of members of Hose Company Number 4 of the old Teaneck Volunteer Fire Department decided that Teaneck needed an ambulance corps that could serve its 23,000 residents (the population at that time) 24 hours a day, every day of the year and without charge. Prior to this time, the Township was served by ambulances operated by area hospitals. They offered irregular response times and often little more than transportation.

The driving force was Cornelius Van Dyk, a Hose Company member who was then the town's animal warden. Since he lived and worked in Teaneck, he felt that he, and others, would be available at any time of the day or night to respond to an emergency.

Van Dyk located an ambulance in a small town in Ohio which could be purchased inexpensively, and he and Jimmy Thompson journeyed to Ohio to bring the rig to Teaneck. Their find turned out to be a 1936 LaSalle, which looked very much like a hearse, somewhat like the transport ambulances used by some private services today, but it carried minimal equipment. Van Dyk and Thompson devoted their spare time to raising enough money to pay for the ambulance. Appearing all over town with the ambulance, they made person-to-person solicitations for contributions. Many donations were as little as a quarter. They formed a nonprofit corporation and named it the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (TVAC).

1939
TVAC, One Ambulance and Ten Members in 1939
1939
Cornelius Van Dyk, driving force in organizing the newly formed Volunteer Ambulance Corps, proudly displays its first ambulance, a 1936 LaSalle, as part of its initial fund-raising drive on July 4, 1939.  The sign in the side window reads: "Your donations will bring this ambulance to Teaneck."
 

Today the corps has 115 active, highly trained members, hundreds of alumni, four modern ambulances with another on order, and a central headquarters building with facilities for the ambulances, crew quarters, a kitchen and sleeping accommodations for six or more members. The TVAC now serves a community of 40,000. It's a busy life in the TVAC, with three highways, two nursing homes, a hotel-and-office complex, an industrial area and a major university to be covered.

Throughout the last fifty-plus years, the corps has never charged a patient or the patient's family for service, whether the patients are Teaneck residents, visitors, or people who need medical service while passing through the town. The corps also renders service in nearby towns as part of a mutual aid system, again without charge. In fact, the most important word in the name of the organization is "volunteer," an identification the members zealously protect. In recent years, the corps has averaged 3,500 runs a year and the total number of calls made in its history is estimated at between 100,000 and 110,000.

How has the TVAC operated? It has every expense of a large corporation except payroll. The corps literally finances itself. It receives a stipend from the Township Council (the maximum allowed by law when a community does not own and operate the corps), but this covers only some 14 percent of the costs. The balance comes from donations from residents, solicited by the corps once a year. Thanks to the generosity of residents, the typical donation is no longer 25 cents.

These funds must cover fuel and service for four ambulances; medical supplies (a very significant expense); oxygen (used on many calls); maintenance of the headquarters building from which the corps members respond; insurance, utilities and a reserve for ambulance replacement, to mention just some of the basics. 

Replacement of ambulances is a major expense. The ambulances operate around the clock, and must deliver peak performance at all times. Consequently, the corps must replace an ambulance before it reaches the end of its useful, dependable life. The difference between a happy ending and a less-than-happy ending could be the dependability of the ambulances. Due to rising costs and decreased income, TVAC, for the first time ever, recently had to ask the Township to buy two new ambulances. They were delivered in 1995.

TVAC has been at the leading edge of ambulance innovation. In 1972, hearse-type ambulances were replaced by vehicles having a pick-up truck chassis. In 1989, the process of phasing in the safer and more reliable medium truck chassis commenced, and two more were added this year.

Starting in 1975, a number of innovations such as mounting the patient's cot in the center of the compartment allowing EMT care from both sides, standardized kits and improved warning devices to reduce traffic hazards were initiated by Walter Pinches who was a member of the corps from 1965 until his death in 1994. The skills and devotion of the ambulance crews are essential. Every regular member of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps today is a state-certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), trained to standards established by the Federal government. The basic certification consists of 130 hours of formal training outside of the corps, usually at the Bergen County Fire and Police Academy, or the Bergen County Emergency Medical Training Center in Paramus.

During the 9- to 12-month probationary period, each member undergoes additional training on the corps' equipment and learns its procedures. Every three years, each EMT must recertify with the State of New Jersey by taking an additional course of 48 hours and another state-administered examination, which includes a demonstration of hands-on skills as well as a three-hour written test.

One-third of the TVAC members are certified to use the semi-automatic defibrillators which were purchased through the generosity of the residents of Classic Residence on Pomander Walk. Defibrillator service started in 1994 after 20 years of negotiations with the NJ State Department of Health to gain the right to provide it.

Corps members are fully trained for emergencies ranging from strokes and heart attacks to broken bones, heavy bleeding, shock, diabetic crisis and the hundreds of injuries which follow auto and home accidents. Many members of the corps have had the thrill of assisting a mother in delivering her baby. In addition, many members have voluntarily sought and maintained certification in pre-hospital Trauma Life Support, Heavy Rescue, Hazardous Materials Operation, Incident Command, Water Rescue, Sign Language, and other advanced skills.

In the last few years, the TVAC has been assisted on about 10 percent of the calls by paid paramedics from the local hospitals. They are actually an outreach of the emergency rooms. Their vehicles are not ambulances, but carry equipment for use in advance procedures which had previously been administered only in emergency rooms. Paramedics make emergency room procedures accessible to patients precious minutes sooner, which can make a difference.  The hospitals so charge for this service.

The 3,200 calls a year answered by the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps represents an average of about eight runs every 24 hours every day of the year. Many corps members have passed the 1,000-call mark and a select few have exceeded 5,000 calls, for which an award is given. Unlike many area towns, the TVAC is an in-house corps; that is, there are members on duty who are present in the building 24 hours a day. This accounts for the very fast response time. If additional members are needed, a back-up paging system is used.

The building at 855 Windsor Road is the fourth home of the Corps. In 1939, the ambulance was kept in a single garage that still exists in the embankment behind the municipal building. The garage just about accommodated the rig, so four years later the Corps moved to a single-bay building on Teaneck Road now occupied by a roofing company. The third home was a two-bay building on Teaneck Road, which was given to the Township in exchange for the land on which the present building is located.

Shortly after the move to Windsor Road, the Corps initiated a system of having a crew sleep in the building to make fast responses during the night. Since then, there has always been a crew assigned to sleep-in duty. It would be difficult to characterize the members by any standard except their desire to help people, and to save lives where possible. Some members are high school students who are mature enough to feel the same dedication as the older members, some of whom have grandchildren.

Occupations range all the way from lawyers to computer experts and technicians, retail executives, clergymen, medical workers, police officers, firefighters, accountants--men and women from every walk of life. And they represent every religious group and every ethnic background. The corps was one of the first of its kind to accept and recruit women, who now account for about half of the membership and who have served as officers up to the top operations post of Captain.

Requirements for membership are good health, the ability to lift and proof of character. Each ambulance that responds to a call is staffed by at least two fully trained regular members. All drivers receive special training and pass a rigorous driving test.

Ambulance service has changed over the years. In some states, service was rendered by undertakers. Most hospitals ran ambulances years ago, although many were not equipped to provide immediate emergency service. At one time, many hospitals required interns to ride on the rigs as part of their training. This ended with World War 11, when there was a shortage of physicians, and it has never been resumed.

In earlier years, ambulances "swooped and scooped," that is, rushed to the scene, loaded the patient, and rushed to the hospital. Today, with the training of Emergency Medical Technicians and Mobile Intensive Care Unit Paramedics, the procedures have changed. Physicians who specialize in emergency medicine depend on the ambulance personnel to arrive at the scene, evaluate the condition of the patient (a skill for which they are now trained) and to stabilize the patients before moving them. This involves using a host of modern pieces of equipment designed especially for this purpose. Ambulance personnel now report a patient's condition to the hospital via radios in the rigs so that physicians can order other procedures and the hospitals can be ready to receive patients for whom treatment has been initiated by ambulance personnel. Patients enter the emergency medical system with a head start, which has been observed to produce significant improvements in final results.

Teaneck ambulances are dispatched by the Teaneck Police Department. By dialing 911, one reaches the police within seconds. A dedicated ambulance phone line is located on the police switchboard. In addition, the rigs are equipped with police and fire department radio frequencies, so that dispatchers can always reach them on the road.

The corps urges residents to call for an ambulance if there is the slightest thought that an ambulance is needed. Members would much rather respond to an incident only to find they are not needed, than to respond where there has been a delay and it is too late.

The corps also provides non-emergency medical transportation for Teaneck residents when arranged in advance by a physician or authorized hospital personnel. Bringing people home is always a happy trip. To conserve resources, non-emergency transports are available from 7:00pm to I 1:00pm and on weekends.

The corps works closely with the police and fire departments. Both are most helpful and assist in many ways. If there is a highway accident, or other problem involving entry into a building or a vehicle, the Fire Department also will respond to provide forcible entry, extrication, hazard control or assistance with a patient as needed.

In short, Teaneck residents and visitors have a state-of-the-art first response emergency medical service. The members of the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps are proud of their part in making this a reality and look forward to another fifty years of serving the public, without charge, with the best skills and equipment they can provide. The Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps (1939 - 1989) looks to another fifty years of service.

Written and updated by Bill Shambroom

Ambulance Corps in Fourteen Year History of Service -- From Teaneck Report, September 1953

Everything You Wanted to Know about the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps -- From The Teaneck News, Wednesday, October 17, 1979

Members of Teaneck Ambulance Corps in 1979 -- From The Teaneck News, Wednesday, October 17, 1979

Teaneck Corps Men Win Life Memberships -- From Press Journal, April 16, 1981

Back to Teaneck Virtual Village

Back to Home