DAMASCUS—The Damascus Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps celebrates 50 years of service to northeastern Wayne County this year.

Members of the public are invited to celebrate with the hard working volunteers at their annual Chicken BBQ take out dinner on Saturday, August 24, from 1-4 p.m..

Those interested can pick up some tasty chicken at the ambulance building (1290 Cochecton Turnpike, Tyler Hill, PA). Commemorative 50th Anniversary tee-shirts will also be available for sale.

“It's quite an accomplishment,” said Treasurer Steve Adams of the corps' turning 50. “Time goes by really fast.”

The same year music rocked Bethel, New York for three days straight, the same year two Americans touched down on the lunar surface, a group of community-minded individuals gathered in Damascus to help those in need reach medical services.

“Our dispatcher was Jane Tyler,” explained Carl Bell, a charter member of the corps. “She was a telephone operator and we had those hand-crank phones with party lines.”

Over the course of his service with the corps, Bell has served myriad positions including and EMT and ambulance driver.

In order to pick up residents and deliver them to the hospital, Bell explained, “Some seasonal resident from the city bought an old Cadillac ambulance, and that's what we used.”

The corps didn't have a building at first. And so the ambulance was stored in Dick Turner's garage, said Bell.

This would persist until Thomas and Lucille Griffith donated one half acre of land on August 3, 1970, allowing the building's construction to begin.

“The response was very good,” said Bell. “When people learned that we had no ambulance service, they were more than happy to respond and do whatever they could.”

Back in the early days, “When we were on duty, since it was by phone, we couldn't leave our houses,” explained Pat Sheard, a former Damascus EMT. “We couldn't go anywhere.”

Corps President Joe Davis noted the job was further complicated because, “There was no 911 system. There were no radios.”

This made pickups particularly challenging in that, once deployed, the ambulance had no way of contacting the dispatcher for directions or other information.

“We were trailblazers out there on our own,” Said Davis. “You had to know the territory. There was no GPS.”

Today, 911 dispatchers frequently check in with responders. Moreover, improvements in addressing, road signage and global positioning technology make finding and getting to those in need of service easier and faster.

Additionally, 911 dispatch can radio for advanced life support (ALS) units with paramedics on board to backup Damascus' basic life support (BLS) capabilities.

“They didn't have that in those days,” said Davis.

Sheard added, “You did the best you could.”

Looking back, Davis commended the foresight it took to establish the corps to serve those in emergency need in the community.

He noted the service is so ingrained now that, “We're almost taken for granted that, you're going to dial 911 and somebody's going to show up.”

Damascus Ambulance today

For the last five decades, Damascus Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps has covered 70 percent of Damascus Township, all of Manchester Township, 60 percent of Lebanon Township and 20 percent of Buckingham Township, a land mass of approximately 133 square miles.

The corps also provides mutual aid to locations outside their coverage area if the primary services in those places is unable to respond.

“You're talking a huge geographic area,” said Davis. “The population ... has increased substantially in that amount of time, which conversely means that we've had a substantial increase in call volume.”

In recent years, the corps receives an average of between 250 and 300 calls each year, supported by fire response when needed from the Beach Lake and Equinunk volunteer fire companies.

The corps has two apparatus, manned by seven trained drivers, all of whom can function as either EMTs or first responder EMT supports.

With the high volume of calls, a second facility in Equinunk and the need to keep at least two members on call per response, the need for additional volunteers is high.

“A big problem is volunteers,” said Davis. “We need help...We're blessed up here financially. The people really support us. But we need volunteers, we really do.”

Noting volunteerism is dwindling in all facets of non-profit work, Adams said, “The amount of money that volunteers, both fire and ambulance save the state is billions.”

He explained townships are required by law to provide fire and EMS response.

Without coverage from a volunteer corps, the township would have to seek paid services from a private company elsewhere.

“It would be a phenomenal tax burden on the residents of...the coverage area,” said Davis.

More than just a financial boon to the community, volunteering as an EMT provides one access to numerous first-aid skills, practice managing tasks in high-pressure situations, and can help develop one's career path.

Davis noted two former Damascus Ambulance volunteers, Dan Halvorsen and April White, used their training to further careers in medicine.

Halvorsen is currently a doctor and White will shortly enter medical school.

All things considered, Davis, Sheard, Bell and Adams all noted the most important part about volunteering is giving back to the community.

In Davis' words, “To be able to give back is really important when you stop and consider the great country we live in and all that's been given to us...To not want to give back is pretty short-minded and selfish.”

Adams added, “It was interesting. Because I personally never really gave it much thought about volunteering...and then my first wife died in 2008.

“When we took her to the hospital...that was the first time I had ever been in an ambulance, and it was a pretty emotional time for me.”

Afterward, Adams was asked to join by the ambulance captain and leapt at the opportunity.

“I realized how important it was and not only that, I saw the need was great.”

Those interested can learn more about the Damascus Volunteer Ambulance Corps and how to volunteer at next Saturday's Chicken BBQ, from 1-4 p.m.

The corps also holds regular meetings on the second Monday of each month at 7:00 p.m. in the ambulance building.

More information is also available online at: http://www.damascustwp.org/volunteer.html.