SALEM, VA. – Eighty years ago volunteers formed what has become the second-oldest rescue squad – in the whole world.
Today the Salem Volunteer Rescue Squad is still going strong, helping to comfort people, save lives and provide back up to paid emergency workers every day.
The accomplishments of what started as the Salem Lifesaving Crew in 1932 were celebrated at a banquet on Nov. 17 at the Salem Civic Center. It was based on the oldest in the country, the Roanoke Lifesaving Crew that was founded in 1928, and Julian Wise was instrumental in founding the Salem crew.
Although the squad is totally volunteer, the 50-plus members provide backup service at night and weekend days for Salem’s paid Emergency Medical Services provided through the fire department, and assist at other times. “We’re saving the city a lot of money doing stand by at the Salem Fair, on Old Salem Days, the Stagg Bowl,” said member Ken Cook. He said the squad ran about 700 calls last year, and spent 20,000 hours covering everything.
“If you were to pay a paid staff, we’re saving the City of Salem easily half of $1 million a year. This year alone we spent 960 hours of planning and coverage time at the fair.”
“We’ve already got people doing nights and weekend days. members are supposed to work one day each weekend per month,” Cook added.
For Cook, even though he’s been a volunteer for 35 years come next July, volunteering with the Salem Rescue Squad “is still fun.”
And even though the City of Salem now bills for ambulance service transport, “The nice thing is it hasn’t had that much effect on our fundraising,” Cook said.
There was no paid emergency coverage when A.B. Hoback and Harold King, the two oldest living life members of the Salem squad, joined in 1956. Between the two of them, they have served 116 years.
And younger members are still joining.
At 18, Jake Montgomery has been a member for almost three years. The Junior Member of the Year volunteers with the squad “To give back to the community. It’s really rewarding,” he said.
Will Conyers, who is 20, has been a junior member for a month. “I want to be a physician’s assistant, and this is good medical experience,” he explained.
“I remember why I wanted to join,” said King, thinking back. “I was coming back from Bedford Lake and there was an accident on Rt. 460. There wasn’t as much a person who stopped who had a first aid kit,” he said.
Rob Logan, a Life Member of the squad and speaker for the evening, reflected on the squad’s years he remembers. Logan is director of the Western Virginia Emergency Medical Services Council.
“I was 17 when I joined, and my friend and I took a Red Cross First Aid Basic course at Fort Lewis Rescue Squad. Our entertainment after school was to walk up to the Rescue Squad. The squad, police department and fire department were all in the same building. The way people were notified was by Ferdinand, a big horn that used to be on top of the Fire Station on College Avenue.
“I filled out an application and the next night, as I recall, a call came in. Police Chief George Eades drove, and I and my friend, who were probationary officers, off we went to Roanoke Memorial with a Salem City Shop employee who had dislocated his shoulder. LewisGale wasn’t in Salem at the time. The ambulance rocked a little bit, and the man’s shoulder popped into place,” he remembered.
“Back then, we ran calls all over the place. Salem Rescue had a reputation of covering everybody else’s calls: Catawba, Glenvar, Hollins.”
Ambulances were “overgrown station wagons,” Logan said. In fact, when the squad was first formed, there wasn’t an ambulance for two years, and the crew carried equipment in a town car.
In Logan’s early days, “The building had some old, brown Naugahyde sofas. We junior members would spend a lot of time. Bob Lieb was one of those who fussed at us for standing on the couches.”
The Salem Rescue Squad played a major role in moving patients from the old Lewis Gale Hospital in Roanoke to the new location in Salem, he remembered. “It was really a big deal.”
The Salem squad had three of the first 32 who “challenged” the written exam for paramedics. In addition to Logan, they were Dave Wiley and Gary Lautenschlager. Lucky Garvin, who is an Emergency Room doctor at LewisGale still, was their mentor, Logan said.
He recalled the part Salem Rescue members played in rescuing people during the Flood of 1985, and how they put their own lives in danger to do so.
Life Member Mike Moore joined when he was 26 and 32 years later is still volunteering.
“I was one of the older ones when I came there,” he said. Why does he do it? “I still enjoy helping people when they are feeling their worst.”
He remembers the first call he ever went on. “It was one of our regulars. I was in the back of the truck with Danny Hamlin and Jim Moore. The call was in South Salem. The man had a breathing difficulty. We gave him some oxygen. I don’t think we transported. We had several men we would give oxygen, spend five or 10 minutes talking with them and comforting. It was more of a community service.”
These days, he spends eight to 12 hours a week volunteering, helping with the Jefferson College of Health Sciences. “We provide an ambulance and a driver on Mondays during the school year with the paramedic program, working with an instructor from the college and one or two paramedic students.”
“They come to Salem Rescue and we run calls from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays during the school year,” with Moore as the driver. “The students have to have so many calls over their college career before they graduate. It helps us cover calls, and it keeps me up on the latest medical training skills and technology,” Moore said.
Current Chief Jack McDaniel gave out gifts of fleece jackets embroidered with the Salem Rescue Squad seal and dates 1932-2012 were given out to active members, as well as trauma shears.
“I carry the shears in my car because it’s handy for cutting a person out of a seat belt,” said Life Member Betty Powell. “Because I have Salem Rescue Squad tags on my car, I can’t bypass an accident.”
Other officers are Assistant Chief Glen Gray, Captain Kenny Lampert, Duty Lieutenant Brian Shenal, Training Lieutenant Matt McAuley, Personnel Lieutenant Melissa Gray, Mechanical Lieutenant Adam LaChappelle and Treasurer Denene Hannon.