Salem Rescue Squad volunteers treated everything from bee stings to a pig bite and more serious conditions at the Salem Fair this year – and along the way saved the City of Salem an estimated $19,000 by providing first-aid treatment and backup emergency services without charge.
That monetary figure comes from the all-volunteer Salem Rescue Squad’s treasurer, Peter Hannon.
Volunteers assessed and treated or “rehabbed” 62 patients for everything from bee stings and heat exhaustion to “blisters from wearing my new sandals” – and the pig bite that happened when a visiting child ignored signs not to put hands through the petting zoo fence.
Squad members sent 15 people on to hospitals by ambulance for a variety of more serious conditions, three more by private vehicle and six who could have been transported were released “against medical advice.”
Some conditions were prompted by fairgoers who came from three or more hours away without remembering to pack vital medications, such as insulin or blood pressure medicine, and many who didn’t drink enough water and got too hot, Salem Rescue Squad Captain and Training Lt. Darlene Gee said.
“We had people who have come from several hours away, people who didn’t bring their pills…and people who have bought ride tickets and are determined to stay all day” in the heat, Hannon explained, “or who had seizures during the fireworks because of all the bright lights which can trigger them.”
Even though some situations seemed as simple as a bee sting or overheating, Salem Rescue Squad members picked up the ailing in the two outfitted golf carts, took them to the air-conditioned trailer, “Fair Command,” near the fair entrance, and assessed the symptoms.
“We watched them and gave them fluids in a cool environment, to make sure they didn’t have an underlying condition we didn’t know about,” Gee explained.
If the City of Salem’s paid emergency services through Salem Fire & EMS had not had the Salem Rescue Squad’s volunteers and some from Cave Spring and Giles County camped out in the 8-foot-by-35-foot trailer during fair hours on the midway and as backup, additional paid EMS would have had to be hired for the fair and/or support from nearby paid EMS units, Hannon explained.
Salem Fair Manager Carey Harveycutter agreed: “The Salem Rescue Squad has been an integral part of the Salem Fair for all 30 years and we would be hard pressed to operate safely without their members and the other squads they solicit during our 12-day event.”
The fair presented a logistical situation to first locate people in need of medical attention among all the crowd, get to them with the squad’s golf carts – one outfitted with a stretcher – and transport them back to the trailer near the front entrance of the fair.
“We had various pickup points,” Hannon pointed out. “We also had ambulance sirens, but don’t like to use them in the middle of the fairgrounds…In the course of the day the nature of calls would change: heat problems early, near closing, tempers flared and there were a few fights. Throughout there would be people with diabetic symptoms because they ate all the fair foods – or didn’t eat.”
Over the years, Salem Rescue Squad volunteers have also worked through severe thunderstorms and high winds. “I remember the Big Wheel was struck by lightning one year,” Gee said.
This year Salem Rescue Squad’s volunteers spent 735 total hours on the Salem Fair Midway, Hannon said, with several of the members at all times manning Fair Command from 4 to 11 p.m. during the week and noon to 11 p.m. on weekends. Cave Spring rescue squad contributed another 170 hours, and Giles volunteers, 85 hours.
The Salem volunteers continue helping out at the fair because they care about the people of Salem and those who visit here, Gee pointed out. She was on duty 69 hours herself, and Hannon served 50 hours, both in addition to working full time jobs.
Long-time member Mike Moore, who is retired, served 46 hours during the fair. He opened up the trailer, put the awning out before other members could arrive from jobs, and wrote up reports, Gee said. He is the longest continually serving member, and holds the honor of being called “Rescue 1”.
Gee is a Registered Nurse who “has the privilege of caring for America’s heroes,” she said, in the ICU at the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Hannon is a nurse in Carilion’s endoscopy department. His wife, Denene, is a paramedic at LewisGale Medical Center and is currently the squad’s Assistant Chief.
Many people don’t know that Salem Rescue Squad members do not receive a penny of pay for their services. Since it was founded in 1932, the Salem Rescue Squad has been all volunteer. Members are proud of having the second oldest all-volunteer squad in the whole United States. In November, the squad will celebrate its 85th anniversary, and is currently holding a membership drive to recruit new members.
“You don’t have to be the person who goes out and runs calls. We need people for our support team, to assist in secretarial things, for instance,” Gee said.
She emphasized the squad which backs up paid first responders who work for Salem Fire & EMS wants to do “more education and prevention, instead of having to go to somebody’s residence or where they are” and already in a medical crisis.
“We’re here to help. We want to let our public know we’re here for you not just when you have an emergency,” Gee said, adding that the squad wants to be more visible to the public.
To stand out at the Salem Fair this year and to appear more approachable, squad members wore bright turquoise T-shirts with the squad name instead of their duty uniforms.
“We’re fortunate we have a good work relationship with our Salem Fire Department and Salem Police Department,” Gee added.
Gee, who has been a Salem Rescue volunteer for 32 years, pointed out “We are involved in standing by at many events, such as the Summer Music Games which are coming up, Olde Salem Days in September, activities at the Salem Civic Center, Salem High School football and other sporting events – and we’re next the field when the activities are going on. It’s pretty awesome,” she said, mentioning one of the perks of volunteering at activities in Salem.
The hours totaled on their charts from the fair don’t include coordinating, pre-planning, getting the food for volunteers – and all the training squad members have to be able to handle just about anything.
The squad provides training for volunteers and helps them find classes to get additional training they need to become certified in national Emergency Medical Technician certification and updates; provides free gear, and camaraderie.
Squad volunteers on duty often work 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shifts – with time for sleeping in the fully outfitted crew bunk rooms – so they are available all night if calls come in. They serve together, train together, eat together, play together and share their lives.
“It’s like a family. You see the worst things that happen to people. You are there at the most critical times in people’s lives,” Gee summed up.
Some of the squad training helps those in the medical field stay updated. For instance, Paramedics need 72 hours of training every year, Hannon said. Gee and Denene Hannon go to a lot of training together. “We’re about to do a ‘difficult airway’ course,” Gee said. “We always exceed the number of hours required, so you want to see the newest techniques.”
They are looking forward to attracting more people who want to volunteer. “We’re really at a critical point for volunteering these days. Everyone is working multiple jobs, taking kids to sports and ballet…,” said Hannon. “A Life Member used to be someone who served 25 years. Now we have reduced it to 12 years.”
Gee got interested in become a Salem Rescue Squad member after she was treated by the squad when she was a teenager working at Lakeside and got overheated. She still remembers the kindness of Salem Rescue (then Salem Lifesaving Crew) volunteer M.J. O’Brien who took care of her that day when she passed out.
“I really believe the volunteers are out there in our community, and are just waiting for us to invite them…and we are,” Gee a Long-time member Mike Moore, who is retired, served 46 hours during the fair. He opened up the trailer, put the awning out before other members could arrive from jobs, and wrote up reports, Gee said. He is the longest continually serving member, and holds the honor of being called “Rescue 1”.
Gee’s husband, Paul, has been a Salem Rescue member and is getting ready to rejoin, she said.
Teenagers as young as 16 can start EMT classes and become junior members. Volunteers don’t have to be certified as an EMT when they come into the squad, Gee emphasized. “We will help them find a class, and offer a lot of training.”
People interested in knowing more about the all-volunteer Salem Rescue Squad or volunteering can contact the squad at email@example.com or the administrative phone line, 540-375-3001.