After nearly 67 years of helping residents, the Whitestone Volunteer Ambulance Service just got a bit of help themselves.
At a meeting on Aug. 20, the Woman’s Club of Malba presented the free 24-hour ambulance service with a $100,000 donation for a modern new ambulance — the largest check in the woman’s club’s history and the largest donation to the WVAS since the 1970s.
The donation was made possible when the woman’s club, which occupied a clubhouse on Center Drive since 1947, had to sell the property in November of 2012 after not being able to keep up with expenses.
The boost is something WVAS spokesman Jason Fassler said is crucial for the all-volunteer organization, which provides free basic life-support services to residents in the area, as well as nearby communities of Malba and College Point.
According to Fassler, there has consistently been a dispatcher on-site 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for the past three years. And, other ambulance services throughout the city don’t have EMTs on-site during the day or on weekends.
The two Whitestone ambulances, used by 60 EMTs, drivers and dispatchers who volunteer regularly, are over 15 years old. At present, one is not working and needs $3,000 worth of repairs, Fassler said.
The new ambulance — which is being custom built by a company in Nassau County and is expected to be ready in January — will have the latest safety features like air bags in the back compartment, safety harnesses and a special child’s safety seat. Right now, if a child needs ambulance service, he or she rides strapped-in on a parent’s lap.
“No matter how state-of-the-art an ambulance is, it’s a big box,” Fassler said. “It can roll over. If something like that does happen, we want to have the state-of-the-art safety features in the ambulance.”
The ambulance will also have a cutting-edge tire chain system; snow chains will drop down at the touch of a button.
“That is such a blessing,” Carla Suarez, an EMT and Whitestone native, said. She added it can be tough to drive a big ambulance around the streets, and that winters are difficult.
Now, chains easily get stuck, or break. About five years ago during heavy snows, an ambulance lost traction and rolled into a resident’s yard. The service had to wait days for the snow to melt to dig it out.
“Times are changing,” Christopher Roshore, another EMT, added. “Cell phones from years ago can be completely different from [how they are] now. Safety protocol changes too, so having all of those new updated features will just help out tremendously.”
Roshore added that many volunteers put in far more than the minimum 24 hours a month. “It’s a really a good community setting. Honestly, everyone here is like a family member,” he said.
According to Fassler, other volunteer ambulance services except the College Point Community Ambulance Corps now bill patients’ insurance companies and charge copays.
“We don’t see that as fair, because people have been donating to us since 1947,” Fassler said. “That’s one of the things that makes us a little more unique.”
In the past, ambulances would transport residents to and from medical facilities; if a patient was taken to a doctor’s appointment, EMTs were required to wait to shuttle them back home — sometimes for hours — putting pressure on resources when emergency calls came through.
Now, they only deliver residents to the hospital, allowing them to pick up more people for emergencies.
Still, Fassler said they’re able to handle about 98 percent of their calls.
“We’re very happy to do this because it’s part of our community,” Pauline Guidice, a woman’s club member who grew up in Whitestone, said. “We just have to support these community functions. Every dollar really helps.”
Guidice explained that over the years, more women joining the workforce has left the woman’s club with fewer new members; when it was evident they had to sell the clubhouse, the club donated to several local charities.
The group hopes to use the ambulance service’s space at 12-15 150 St. for regular meetings. Additional ambulance service volunteers are needed. For free EMT training, call (718) 767-1000 for information.