Spring Lake First Aid and Emergency Squad Celebrates 95th Anniversary
November 08, 2023 | NEW JERSEY
Photo by PROVIDEDSLFAS packard and cadillac rigs.
Photo by PROVIDEDSLFAS current rigs.
Photo by PROVIDEDSLFAS original rigs.
Photo by PROVIDEDSLFAS members, 1950s.
Photo by PROVIDEDSLFAS members, 1930s.
The look of the ambulances has changed some in 95 years, but the mission remains the same – serving the communities and Spring Lake and Spring Lake Heights. On July 9th, the Spring Lake First Aid and Emergency Squad celebrated its 95th anniversary. It is the oldest volunteer squad in the area.
The notion of volunteer first aid squads began in the 1920s when several shore towns, including Belmar, Neptune and Manasquan, along with Spring Lake and Spring Lake Heights, determined there was a genuine need for a rapid response to emergencies, medical and otherwise. Once the Spring Lake squad was formed, the original members took basic training from Dr. R. Donald Patterson. In its infancy, the squad borrowed a spare milk truck from Frank Gaskin’s Milk Co. to respond to calls. It was not long before Frederic A. Duggan donated a fully equipped, specially constructed Studebaker ambulance. It was valued at $8,000. Sadly, Mr. Duggan died a short time later. In 1930, to honor Frederic Duggan, his family donated the brick building on Washington Avenue to the squad to house its equipment. It is now called “The Duggan Building” and sits just west of the Goodwill Fire Company and two doors down from the current first aid squad building.
In those early days, emergency calls were communicated by way of a whistle located at the water plant on Monmouth Avenue. Two original members of the squad, Stanley Truax and Robert Todd, would often respond to calls by cutting through a couple of backyards. Mr. Todd explained that one night he and Stan were racing to the building when things did not go according to plan. “We always took the same route, cutting through yards, and someone had put up a fence. It was about 10 at night, and we both smashed into that fence. We didn’t make that call.”
In 1928 each member was expected to pay 25 cents in weekly dues. That practice ended after seven weeks! Soon thereafter, a fundraiser garnered about $500 and was quickly followed by $100 donations from Martin Maloney (Ballingarry mansion on Morris Ave.), Joseph E. Higgins, and Clifford Hemphill. For years afterward, funds were raised through various means, including an annual lobster dinner.
In the early years, the squad covered a large territory. One of its most notable calls was helping save passengers on the Morro Castle cruise liner which caught fire off the coast of Asbury Park in 1934. Some 128 persons were treated at the Spring Lake squad’s building and at borough hall which was located at 311 Washington Avenue at the time.
When the Hindenburg blimp burned at Lakehurst, N.J. in 1937, the Spring Lake squad responded. Among those who were provided aid was the blimp’s German Captain, Ernest Lehman. Members Fred L. Duggan, Dr. John A. O’Mara and Charles Brahn transported the captain to Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakewood.
In the beginning, the squad members wore aprons that a butcher might have worn. Indeed, the aprons were identical to those worn by Ellis “Piggy” Height’s father (an original member of the squad) at the town butcher shop, located at Third and Washington. Later, the squad wore white coveralls similar to the uniforms worn by caddies at Augusta National Golf Club.
The original membership totaled seventeen men (women were not allowed to join). The squad responded to approximately 400 calls per year for the first 25 years. In the 1970s, as the number of calls increased, volunteers were in short supply. Dr. Patterson, among other members, distributed flyers in town seeking new members. One of them turned out to be the first woman on the squad, Dr. Patterson’s daughter, June Patterson Rounds. However, despite being a nurse, the all-male squad balked at her joining. Ms. Rounds re-applied and was accepted. She later noted, “The real first aiders were glad to have us. We were available during the day. The women have been kind of the backbone for the daytime.”
Today, the squad has 30 members, 15 of whom are women. One, Margie Brahn, is the current secretary of the squad. She is the wife of Don Brahn, grandson of founding member C.W. Brahn. Ms. Brahn has also served as president and captain in her 40 years of volunteer service. Today’s squad responds to approximately 1,000 calls per year.
The vehicles used by the squad have evolved over the years. After that first Studebaker, the squad drove Packards.
However, in 1951 Lewis Kerr, a town council member, and his wife, donated a new Cadillac ambulance. In the 1970s the squad purchased its first Ford ambulance with a “box” on the chassis. The squad has used Ford “boxes” ever since. Today’s squad operates three ambulances and, on occasion, all three are in use responding to calls.
When hurricane Sandy landed on New Jersey’s coast, the squad was ready. For 11 days crew members ate and slept at the squad building which, without power from the grid, ran on a generator. The only means into and out of Spring Lake was via Warren Ave. The town placed a beach ticket booth on Warren wherein a police officer could monitor incoming traffic. The squad’s calls were plenty.
One particular response required a boat. Squad members, along with members of the fire department, walked the boat to South Boulevard at Lake Como to rescue two residents. The water was up to the first floor of the home and quickly rising. Both residents were saved, one from their mattress upon which they were floating. Jersey Shore hospital was beyond capacity during the lengthy storm recovery. For a time, patients were taken to a tent the hospital erected on Bangs Avenue in Asbury Park.
Today’s squad relies on the goodwill of volunteers to help fellow residents in need. As June Patterson Rounds noted many years ago, the greatest need is the daytime. The squad especially welcomes the recently retired, who may have some daytime hours to spare. Please call 732-449-8810 and leave a message or email SLFAS@verizon.net. A squad member will return your call with more information.
(acknowledgements- historical reports and photos from squad archives, as well as interviews with current and former squad members)