Debate surfaces in Cranbury over volunteer EMS unit

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 | MonroeNow | Jul 9, 2018

CRANBURY – A local first aid squad came under fire after residents bemoaned slow response times and alleged in adequate equipment and training by volunteer members in the unit.

The uproar occurred at the June 12 Cranbury Township Committee meeting, initiated by resident Penny Ftikas.

The squad’s leadership defended the unit’s actions and preparation.

Ftzikas centered her concerns on a Nov. 5, 2017 incident where she claimed that local first aid members who responded to her 911 call for her mother arrived 36 minutes later, but a neighboring unit from a different town arrived promptly. She also suggested that the local first aid members were not trained properly because they struggled to place her mother on the gurney.

She wanted the committee to find a solution to problems like she and others have experienced to provide faster responses.

Though, Ftzikas was critical of the unit, which has paid and volunteer members, she said she supports the service the members provide to the community.

However, the committee has little control over the unit since it is technically considered an independent agency regulated by the state. The township does provide annual funding, but has no say over its operations.

“As part of a partnership, we continually review how we can make improvements,” said Committeeman Daniel Mulligan in a recent interview about the topic. “We are always looking to see how we can do somethings better.”

Unit Capt. John Nichols, responding to Ftzikas’s claims, said there was a dispatch issue that resulted in the local unit responding to the wrong address in a neighboring town. Nichols said the unit had answered 200 calls prior to that day and the equipment issued experienced when they went to Ftzikas’s home resulted in a second ambulance being dispatched.

The initial call from Ftzikas was routed to the Mercer County dispatch center, which Cranbury is a member of. A responding unit from West Windsor were sent to a street with the same in that community, instead of the street, which also had the same name, in Cranbury.

Not to underscore the point made by Ftzikas, Nichols said the problem his squad and other first-responding units face, aside from a local police department, is a lack of volunteers to man the schedule.

Though Cranbury has paid coverage for much of the weekdays, nighttime and weekends are manned by volunteers.

Community members at the meeting made clear they support the service but also wanted it to improve.

The relationship puts the committee in a tough position.

“I feel bad because it’s not a reflection on the guys who are on the squad,” said Committeeman Matthew Scott in a recent interview about the issue. “It’s a private entity. There’s not much the town can do unless the town wants to budget for and take on the expense. However, we are not changing anything. We just don’t have the means to do it.”

Despite his comments, Scott isn’t fully ruling out that some kind of change could come in the future.

“There are always professionals in the [ambulance] house. And that’s what we do during the week when the call volume is higher,” he said. “I think our next step is to review and figure out what it’s going to cost. If not, we have to encourage people to volunteer.”