BELMAR -— The Belmar First Aid Squad’s 93-year history of service to borough residents came to end on Thursday.
At 7 a.m., the squad ended its final shift, giving way to a borough-operated unit, which bought some of the squad’s vehicles and hired some of their volunteers and paid employees in order to maintain ambulance services to Belmar and Lake Como.
The transition was forced by a stalemate between the borough and the first aid squad over future funding.
As the clock ticked to through the last minutes of the squad’s time in operation, members gathered at the headquarters at the corner of Ninth Avenue and D Street. The squad hopes to eventually sell the building.
“The end turned out to be we had to close shop. We’ve always been here for the people of Belmar and we are going with our heads held high,” Rick Hines, a member of the squad since 1995, said. He was in the building as the last shift of the Belmar First Aid Squad clocked out.
The last night shift of the squad was quiet, with only one call.
“I’m upset, but especially with the times that is the way it is,” Brian Child, who served the last ship with Robert DeMartin, said. Both employees transferred over to the borough-operated squad. “I still have a job so I can’t be upset I guess.”
On Jan. 4 the Belmar First Aid Squad gave notice to the town that it would be ceasing operations. In a statement from the squad received by The Coast Star at the time, the squad cited the difficulty in attracting and retaining new volunteers, as well as “rigorous” EMT certification requirements, as well as revenue challenges that predated the pandemic.
When the pandemic did hit, funds collected by the squad through insurance billing decreased as fewer individuals wanted to be transported to hospitals that were hard hit by COVID-19, which lead to a deficit of nearly $100,000 from March 2020 to November 2020. Talks with the borough over increasing the yearly stipend from roughly $30,000 to $70,000 eventually faltered.
“it’s sad, there is a lot of history here, over 93 years of history,” Mr. DeMartin, a member of the squad since 2014, said. He added that “it is going to be really excited what is going to happen in the future and the town is still going to get covered at the end of the day.”
At 7 a.m., two ambulances and the squad’s Dodge Durango were taken out of the dock and driven to the borough’s first aid and police station on the boardwalk, on 10th Avenue.
Mary Louis Anderson, a member of the squad, gave to the last sign-off of the squad, saying into the radio that the squad was “signing off their last shift after 93 years of service. Adios.” An acknowledgment soon came over the line from the police department, saying “10:4, thank you.”
Another member of the squad walked to the flag pole in front of the building, lowing the flag and folding it.
“It is the end of the game for us, but it is a new start for some of the guys that work here,” Fran Hines, a lifelong member of the squad said on Thursday morning.
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