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SVAS: Thanks for 50 years

What could make a person want to spend many hours of their own time preparing through intensive training to perform a free service to their neighbors, 24/7, that is paid in many other larger communities? W. Rees Harris knew, as did John Harney Sr. and all the other original members of the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service. Harris was the founding organizer of SVAS back in 1971, 50 years ago. Dr. Peter Reyelt worked with the group at that time to create the intensive course that would give anyone with the dedication the ability to help their neighbors when they needed ambulance service for any reason. That became a model for other ambulance corps across the state of Connecticut.

It’s hard to imagine what life in the Salisbury community would be like without such live-saving service, but there are many alive today who remember exactly that: no ambulance service for their town. But thanks to the vision of Harris and others, the help of the town ambulance corps is now taken for granted by the residents of Salisbury. That vision had to be picked up by a strong group of volunteers in the town who were willing to learn how to function in a rescue operation no matter if they had to perform in the most challenging parts of this rural region. They have had to learn mountain, water and rope rescue operations thanks to the Housatonic River, the Appalachian Trail and mountainous terrain in the area. 

The volunteers today embrace the same reasons to help their neighbors as Harris and Harney did: They do it because they care deeply about their community and all those who are part of it. They are willing to keep clothes ready by their bedsides those nights they are on call to jump up at a moment’s notice when someone is in trouble and needs help. But while some parts of the ambulance calls, of which there are over 500 annually, are very similar to the way things were 50 years ago, some things have changed dramatically so that the work in 2021 can be even more challenging.

The opioid and other drug abuse crisis has made ambulance calls more complicated for EMTs, as has the COVID-19 pandemic. Protocols for stepping into and taking charge of emergency situations have been very carefully defined for EMTs to keep them safe and still allow them to do their best to help those who desperately need it. Because nobody calls 911 unless there is an extraordinary event happening that means a life can be at risk, or an injury has happened that is beyond the scope of normal care, and major professional help is needed.

While those on the squad are volunteers, they perform their duties in an extremely professional way, with equipment and training that prepares them for a wide range of emergency events. But for those who call them and see them arrive on a fraught scene, whatever it may be, it is always welcome to see familiar, caring faces and feel their strong sense of duty and efficiency no matter what they’re walking into. 

Profound thanks to all those who for over 50 years have served and who continue to serve on the SVAS, no matter their capacity, as EMTs or drivers or board members. They are the strong backbone of service work in a strong community of volunteers. Without their dedication and selflessness, the town would be a much different place. Here’s hoping there will be enough volunteers in the area to keep SVAS going on through another 50 years, and more. 

Don’t miss the exhibit at Salisbury Association on the history of the Salisbury Volunteer Ambulance Service, which opened Aug. 10 and will remain up for public viewing until Oct. 8. Understanding the service performed by the volunteers at SVAS goes a long way to helping understand the entire community of Salisbury.

For more on SVAS, see the front page story this week and go to www.salisburyambulance.org.

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