How did we get started?
The Pittston Township Ambulance Association had its humble beginnings from a group of concerned Pittston Township residents, who saw and realized a need for a locally operated Ambulance service. These residents, who were the members of Pittston Townships United States Bi-Centennial Committee decided to place all the financial proceeds of their community wide efforts into an investment of an ambulance service for fellow residents and visitors to the township. As the national and community celebratory events for the USA came to a close in 1976, township residents were asked if they would support a locally operated ambulance service and the residents gave a resounding “YES” to the idea. The proceeds of that Bi-Centennial Committee were then placed into a non-profit organization that became known as the Pittston Township Ambulance Association. The first officers of the Ambulance Association were Michael Charge, President; Dora Weiskerger, Vice President; Rosemary Thubbron, Treasurer and Helen Tierney, Secretary. All of the original officers are now deceased.
Pittston Township EMS Founders:
To purchase an ambulance vehicle and necessary equipment became an immediate goal, along with necessary training. A number of fund raisers were conducted to supplement the available funds, along with a Membership Donation Drive, then $7.00 annually per household. The first ambulance obtained was a 1974 Pontiac Station Wagon Ambulance, surplus from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and was stationed at the Pittston Township Municipal Building. In addition, various medical supplies were obtained as required by the PA Department of Health. EMS Staff members then began training in EMS treatment and care procedures. The first certified staff Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) was Stan Zurek, who is still active to this date on the Board of Directors. The Emergency calls began to be taken in early 1977.
Dispatching of the Ambulance in the early years was a true coordinated effort of many volunteers as this was before the era the modern technology of 911. Calls for ambulance emergencies were made to a seven digit phone number, which rang simultaneously in seven locations. This phone line was set up as an incoming party phone line only, the phones being located in the homes of volunteers of the Ambulance Service. These phones were old black style desk phones without dials, so that only incoming calls could be accepted and one of these old phones is on display at our Ambulance Station. Once an emergency call was received, volunteers then went to the municipal building where the ambulance was stationed or other volunteers were summoned by phone and notified of an emergency call. This required at least one volunteer to be at home every hour of the day, every day of the year, to ensure the phone would be answered and that the emergency call would be dispatched. This method of dispatching continued until 1990.
Some modifications for dispatching became necessary as the service and needs of the community grew. To make for quicker responses, in the early 1980’s, a commercial paging company was contracted to provide commercial voice pagers and serve as a backup answering service coverage for dispatching. However, volunteers still did answer the emergency phones up until 1993 and activated the commercial voice pagers to notify the EMS staff of an emergency call.
In 1993, with dispatching becoming an increasing burden for volunteers, the Ambulance, Fire and Police services of the township sought a better method for answering the emergency phone lines. The help of the Municipality Government/Supervisors was sought and an agreement for dispatching all Pittston Township Emergency Services was then done by Duryea Borough, who had a 24 hour dispatcher on duty. This continued until 1997, when Luzerne County began its 911 service and then did all emergency dispatching under specific standards and guidelines as required by state law. Luzerne County 911 does all emergency dispatching to this date.
The Ambulance vehicles in service have been varied in type and nature, but all with accepted design and technology for their time of service. The first vehicle obtained was a 1974 Pontiac Station Wagon, surplus from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. With community support very strong in membership donations, that vehicle was not in service very long, as it was replaced in late 1977 with a brand new Ford Van Wheeled Coach Manufactured Ambulance. In 1986, the Ambulance Service purchased it first modular design of Ambulance, a new1986 Ford Horton Ambulance. This vehicle was replaced in late 1993 with a new 1994 Ford Mobile Medical Ambulance, another modular design. In 2003, the Mobile Medical ambulance was replaced with a similar 1994 Ford Horton Ambulance with funds from a state grant. In April 2005, the Association took delivery of a new demo ambulance, a 2004 Ford PL Custom Modular, replacing the previous vehicle in service.
In 2012, the Municipality of Pittston Township approached the Ambulance Association with an offer to purchase a new ambulance vehicle using revenue from taxes. In discussion with elected officials and due to the growth of the township, an agreement was made to accept the Municipality offer to purchase a new ambulance to serve the community. This marked the first time an ambulance was bought fully with taxpayer funds with all equipment and supplies purchased by the Ambulance Association.
In 2017, the Municipality of Pittston Township again approached the Ambulance Association with an offer to purchase a new ambulance vehicle using revenue from taxes. An agreement was made to accept the Municipality offer to purchase a new ambulance which replaced the 2004 model. Medical equipment and supplies were purchased by the Ambulance Association.
A new fully stocked ambulance costs upwards of $210,000. As part of the agreement, the Ambulance Association has two vehicles. For ease of operation, both vehicles are identical in layout and supplies so that our EMS providers can use either vehicle knowing exactly where the equipment is located. Both are fully Pennsylvania Department of Health certified for response and are rotated in service. Typically one ambulance is online for dispatch. However, there are times when both vehicles are made available for dispatch depending on the need and staff availability.
Medical equipment used and required has gone through many changes and upgrades. Simple tools of the trade have become complex items. Common wooden backboards have been replaced with plastic construction for ease of sanitation and now have removable patient straps. Floating backboards for water/pool use are also standard. Glass thermometers have been replaced with plastic digital for safer use. Blood pressure cuffs have been upgraded with auto machine types that take both BP’s and pulses freeing the EMS provider to do other aspects of patient care while the machine does its work. Pulse Oximeters register oxygen levels in the blood so that EMS care providers can more accurately access the patients need for oxygen therapy assistance. AED’s, CPAP devices and administration of Naloxone and EPI pens are now common EMT skills. Specially designed care items are now carried for child/pediatric patients. And everything on board that is electrically supplied, are both rechargeable and portable to be used wherever the patient happens to be. But the most important aspect of patient care is the skilled EMS/EMT provider who can accurately assess a patient condition and use the equipment available.
Radio communications have dramatically improved, from relying on phone calls to notify staff of emergency calls, to now all EMS staff member having pagers and/or two way radios for reliable communication between EMS responders and the 911 centers of Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties which includes direct radio access into hospital emergency departments. In addition, a cell phone app is used to receive more detailed information from the 911 Center and also provides for mapping, driving directions and to identify staff response.
The business and management of the Ambulance Association has to this date been done by those in Executive capacities. The Annual Membership drives, from the formatting of the mailing to the assembly of letters and mailing list is still done exclusively by the Association. At one time, membership drives were done by hand delivery door to door until 1984. The first mailing of memberships took place in 1985 and envelopes were addressed by hand until 1988 when a computerized list was created and mailing labels were produced. Annual audits of the finances are done and filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
Due to growing costs of operating the Ambulance Service and changes in insurance regulations, billing for all emergency responses began in 1991. Billing was done by board member Helen Tierney until 1997, when due to insurance complexities, this aspect was contracted out to a billing agent.
The licensure of an Ambulance Service in Pennsylvania was total voluntary compliance until 1991 after which it became mandatory. From its inception, the Pittston Township Ambulance has been licensed either voluntarily or by mandatory regulation. The license that appears on the side of our vehicle indicates to the public that our service is in compliance with Pennsylvania Department of Health (PA DOH) requirements for operation of an Ambulance Service. Inspections are required every three years, in which a state inspector visits the Ambulance Station, reviews operational records for response and policies, staffing levels and certifications and physically inspects the vehicle and equipment on board for presence, ability of use and stock of medical supplies carried. Each time the ambulance responds the public is assured of a qualified staff on board, with a certified vehicle driver and EMT. In addition, spot checks can and have been done at any time. Such spot checks are usually conducted at hospital emergency room entrances by a PA DOH inspector after an ambulance arrives and before departing. The Pittston Township Ambulance has passed all inspections every time.
The Pittston Township Ambulance Association was always interested in having a home of its own. Originally located at the Township Municipal Building on Broad Street from its beginning in 1977, the Ambulance remained there until 1995 with all administrative operations being conducted from Executive official’s homes. An expansion project of the Municipal Building saw the ambulance being moved to a temporary location at the Municipal garage/recycling center on the James Musto (Pittston) By-Pass. It was at this time the Municipality owned and donated a plot of land and provided a $10,000 donation grant to the Ambulance Service to erect its station and administrative office at a location now known as 24 Bryden Street.
In 1999, a newly elected Municipal Supervisor and his supporters questioned the legality of the Ambulance Station being located at 24 Bryden Street. It was alleged that the Ambulance Service erected its station in violation of zoning ordinances, was alleged to be a public nuisance due to the 24 hour EMS operation and the Municipal Supervisors began legal proceedings against the Ambulance service, seeking relief in sanctions that included closing of the ambulance station, vacating the premises and/or limiting the ability of the Ambulance Association to use its property. A lengthy court proceeding in the years that followed ended in 2003. The court ruled totally in favor of the Ambulance service as the Municipality failed to substantiate and/or prove any of the numerous allegations contained in its lawsuit.
Whereas the Ambulance Association now has two vehicles an expansion of the current station is being explored. The current facility built in 1995 has long been outgrown and is in need of both expansion and upgrading.
PERSONNEL AND STAFF
The EMS staff has been a highly trained group from the humble beginnings of the Pittston Township Ambulance. Both EMS staff and Board Members have always held community service and the interests of the community in high regard along with the careful administration of the Ambulance business functions. Many staff members began their professional careers as EMS providers, then becoming nurses, doctors, hospital executives along with others whose varied employment in other business sectors is beneficial to society. And a number of persons remained as volunteers for the community, staying in the Ambulance Service along with their regular employment.
As EMS professionals, staff members have been called upon to testify in both civil and criminal cases and have served as paid consultants in litigation regarding civil lawsuits.
In 1991, a municipal hired EMS person was employed in a municipal clerical position who also did dual work as a response EMS/EMT. This was a first in the area, but the position was eliminated by elected officials in 1999 being deemed no longer necessary. The Ambulance Association is now responsible for scheduling its staff for 24/7/365 response.
The Pittston Township Ambulance is a hybrid staffed service – a combination of paid and volunteer EMS response personnel. We currently have two full time along with 24 part time or volunteer EMS professionals. The administration/administrators and Board of Directors are all non paid for their services.
As the number of volunteers has dwindled, the Pittston Township Ambulance has maintained a steady roster of available persons. It is rare not to have staff available for responses and the Pittston Township Ambulance service provides more out of town coverage than it receives in return in a typical year.
The Pittston Township Ambulance has a committed effort in public relations to the community. The EMS staff have made appearances at schools for substance abuse and safety sessions; Boy and Girl Scout groups for first aid training; Prom Promise at both the Pittston Area and Wyoming Area High Schools; Back to School weekend sales event at the Wyoming Valley Mall and resident block parties, just to show our vehicle, equipment and demonstrate our skills to the public.
In 2012 our new ambulance, manufactured by PL Custom, was a showcase vehicle at the Pennsylvania State Fire/EMS Expo in Harrisburg. Our vehicle was requested by the dealer/manufacturer as it was voted a premier design vehicle and featured on their website for its operational functionality and graphic design. This three day expo had visitors from many neighboring states.
The Annual Resident Membership Drive is a four page color brochure that informs residents of the membership program and the ambulance service. In addition, a Community Emergency Notification Service (CENS) program was initiated in 2009. With a resident having a membership and providing their email address, they can be notified at any hour of the day of a community issue that could affect their daily life/routine.
A web site was also published for the first time in January 2007. It underwent a complete makeover in late 2014 and came fully back online in February 2015. Another makeover and update was done in late 2018 and the current web site made its debut in January 2019.
DONATIONS AND GRANTS
The Pittston Township Ambulance has received a number of grants from businesses in recognition of their employees who are members of the EMS. Over the years, financial grants have been received from Acme Markets/American Stores Corporation (now SuperValue), Menasha Corporation, Wal-Mart and the TJX Foundation (TJ Maxx Company). Collectively, these grants exceed $40,000 and have gone to improvements in delivery of medical services to the community.
In addition, township residents have directed that their family and friends make donations in lieu of flowers upon their passing. The Ambulance Association has been able to purchase items such as our storage shed, an AED and other supplies that improve the EMS operation.
Other grants provided over the years from various local and state governmental sources total over $350,000 as of 2014.
But the most valuable source of donation are those persons who have tirelessly donated their time and talents to the EMS operation without compensation.
OUR SERVICE AREA
The service area is 17 sq miles with 3,500 residents, a transient population of 60 to 70 thousand persons daily that travel through the community via two Interstates, a state and a federal highway. There are 3 industrial parks, two expanding retail commercial districts, numerous residential areas, a juvenile detention center, the North East Fair and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport that receives EMS from the Pittston Township Ambulance Association.
And in the beginning, the first year (1977) we responded to 175 emergency calls. That averages a call every 2nd or 3rd day.
Currently, the EMS responses range from 800 to 850 annually. Or a 911 response about twice a day.
From our humble beginning, dedicated persons to their community and EMS have made the Pittston Township Ambulance Association what it is today.