The Pennington First Aid Squad in curly text

A Tribute to the Pennington First Aid EMT Training Site 1997-2019

by Julie Aberger

In 1997, Pennington First Aid Squad sought approval with the NJ Dept. of Health to become an EMT training site. Prior to this, the 80-hour course had been taught by the NJSFAC 9th District instructors, Jesse and Dick Bailey. (Jesse and Dick were, of course, leaders in the Pennington squad.)

With blessing from the State, our site began its first class the following year, graduating 24 students, most of whom were destined for PFAS itself as well as Union Fire & Rescue, Hopewell Emergency Medical Unit, and paid EMT services.

From 1998-2019, the training site graduated more than 600 students, with ages ranging from 16-83. The training site was one out of 40 or so in the state.

The state-approved site began under the leadership of PFAS President Frank Fechter and EMT-P Julie Aberger, program director. Its original core teaching staff included instructors Dan Boone, coordinator, Linda Hlavacek Silver, Richard Butterfoss and Jan Crum, lead instructor. Subsequent core instructors included Cindy Orlandi, Debbie Gorczycki, Alice Freeman, Mel Sanders and Scott Sferra. Many instructor aides and paramedics assisted us throughout the years and we are thankful to them all.

Early training center instructors

2005-4-9 core13 instructors Left-to-right,Alice Freeman, Janet Crum, Cindy Orlandi, Julie Aberger, Mel Sanders, Linda Hlavacek. Kneeling, left-to-right - Daniel Boone, Scott Sferra

By 1998, the state had changed the requisite number of classroom hours for EMT training from 80 to 120; the NJ EMT Training Fund reimbursed training sites $750 per student if they were joining a volunteer squad. Instructors were paid for teaching classes which included two evenings a week and Saturdays for approximately two months.

Much work went into establishing the program, adopting the NJ Dept of Health EMT curriculum (and its subsequent iterations), establishing instructors and instructor aides, setting up a classroom, gaining equipment and textbooks, and getting out publicity, through newspapers and flyers. The early squad officers gave robust encouragement and financial support to the training site; the in-house class produced new volunteer EMTs for our squad, a win-win relationship.

In 2000, the requisite EMT class hours increased to 200 dictated by the National Registry curriculum. The PFAS site increased the number to 240, adding hours for students to train in the emergency room as well as ride on an ambulance. The training fund now reimbursed the squad $1250 for each volunteer student. The increase in classroom hours did not impede our class sizes. With increased demand, we added a summer class to our spring and fall classes. Our core faculty did not change; we maintained the quality of our instructor roster with practicing EMTs who had both clinical and pedagogical experience.

We treated our classes like family, giving students unconditional encouragement all the while teaching emergency medicine: the fundamentals of anatomy & physiology; medical/legal issues; pathophysiology; keeping safe; and of course, the limitless possibilities of medical/traumatic emergencies.

Families took the training, parents and kids, siblings, spouses. (Bailey, Bell, Aberger, Orlandi, Orland, Burd, Freeman, Kintzel, Pinelli, Holcombe, Gabai, Tunnicliffe, Soganic, Li, Pszczolkowski, Chaparala, Guerard, Belmont, & others, I'm certain.) Students learned from each other, made new friends and shared a unique lifetime experience. Who doesn't remember Debbie teaching psych emergencies, or Allie's lifesize triage paper dolls? Who can still recite the pathway of the blood through the heart punctuated by Julie intoning "the heart pumps!"? Who remembers Linda's tears when recounting tragic calls or Dan's unconditional kindness when evaluating or taking attendance? And how about Cindy introducing "Staying Alive" to keep the 100 beats-per-minute CPR rhythm? Our instructors were innovative, fun, and practiced.

Throughout the years, the training site instructors also assisted squad drills with PASS, a skills refresher created by the program director that became an annual requirement for all members. Although the captain was responsible for training, our site's instructors graciously provided instruction at monthly drills, keeping members apprised of changes in the curriculum and providing opportunities to initiate new skills, earning precious CEUs. Every year we held EMT core refreshers in order for members to recertify. We also held two NJ First Responder classes that trained members of the Pennington Fire Department, our colleagues next door. The Pennington Police, and the Hopewell Valley Police sent a steady stream of their officers to classes throughout the years which made patient care in the valley even stronger.

As the director of the Pennington First Aid Squad Training Site, I salute its 21 year history, its instructors and aides, and the stalwart squad officers who supported it. But most of all, I commend the hundreds of graduates who took their EMT training out of our classroom and into the community. Some even furthered their education to become medics, nurses, PAs, nurse practitioners, physicians, physical trainers and chiropractors. The Pennington First Aid Squad EMT instructors and I are proud of all our health care professionals: We trained the very best.

There are many pictures from EMT classes on this website.