SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Since its inception in 1952, South Orange Rescue Squad has been serving families in South Orange and surrounding areas with competency and compassion. The squad is entirely volunteer-based, and its operations are funded solely by donations; no tax dollars are allocated for the squad’s efforts.
In order to be a full member of a crew, volunteers are expected to obtain Emergency Medical Technician certification within the first year of joining, and the time commitment is approximately 15 hours per week. For the cadet program for high school students ages 15 to 17, there is a time commitment of approximately six hours per week, with a six- to seven-week training period prior to membership. In addition to the duty requirement for all members, there are meetings to attend, training drills, and care and maintenance of the squad’s building and vehicles.
Once the training out of the way, becoming a member of the squad is fairly easy; in Melanie Troncone’s case, it was almost predestined. A longtime South Orange resident, Troncone has been riding with SORS since January 2010.
“I remember my father riding with the South Orange Rescue Squad when I was in middle school going to high school, and that sparked my interest even back then,” she told The Villager. “Fast forward to 2010, I was laid off from work and one day I drove past a big banner that the SOR squad had with a picture of Uncle Sam on it and advertising that they were looking for volunteers. I started looking through my dad’s old books and figured that maybe they did want me.”
Troncone said she has learned many technical skills over the years of being an EMT. However, the one talent learned on the job is determining what approach each patient needs to feel safe.
“You will see people at their worst, and you have to be compassionate. Every call is different, but if you are observant, you can assess in 30 seconds or so how to assist the patient,” she said. “Sometimes a person doesn’t want to talk and just needs a ride to the hospital, and sometimes they need someone to talk to, and it’s a reminder that someone cares and they aren’t alone.”
Troncone’s commitment to SORS is evident; she believes in its mission so deeply that she signed her daughter, Mackenzie, up for the cadet program so that she, too, could join the ranks.
Now a junior accounting major at Seton Hall University, Mackenzie Troncone is following in the footsteps of her mother and grandfather by devoting her time to the rescue squad as well.
“I started with the cadet program as a sophomore at Columbia High School; I remember one day coming home and my mom said that I had an appointment the next day, and it just kind of stuck,” Mackenzie said in a recent interview. “It’s pretty weird in a good way that my mom and I already have 20 years of experience working together at life, so we do well being on the squad together.”
Melanie Troncone said her daughter became a cadet at a time when the rescue squad was looking to renew the program.
“At the time, we hadn’t had a cadet program in quite a few years, but not for any specific reason. We were tossing around ideas and wanted to get more youth involved in what we do,” she said. “We reached out to Columbia High School and we got a lot of interest. Many of our current cadets came to us through that partnership.”
Maplewood resident Zahavah Rojer, known as “Havi” to the crew, is currently a cadet on the squad.
The senior at Columbia High School said she had always been interested in what the rescue squad did, and decided to give the cadet program a try after hearing about it through word of mouth.
“I have a lot of doctors in my family, and I have always been interested in health and medicine,” she said. “When the Maplewood Rescue Squad shut down and combined with the fire department, I decided to check out South Orange.”
Rojer has been riding with the SORS since November 2017, and plans to take her national EMT exam next month.
“The cadet program teaches you a lot and it definitely prepares you well. If you’re serious about it, then I definitely recommend going to EMT school,” she said. “I still remember my first call; they asked me to do something very simple — hand a piece of gauze — and I was so nervous that I forgot where anything was located.”
The cadet program is offered either yearly or every other year, depending on interest. Participants become CPR-certified and, with parent approval, can go on trucks for calls; at 17 and a half years old they can become full members of a crew.
In addition to EMT training, SORS receives additional instruction on mental health first aid and domestic violence response; also, the East Orange General Hospital Crisis Team comes in to work with them.
In a perfect world, Melanie Troncone would like to CPR certification be a requirement for all high school students.
“It’s helpful for everyone; the sooner the oxygen is flowing, the better the chances for the patient,” she said. “The survival rate for patients would go up dramatically because when we get there we can hook them up and take the next steps.”
The camaraderie among SORS members is unmistakable; they share meals, stories and, most importantly, their thoughts with each other after difficult calls.
“This job can get intense, and it’s important to have a support system. We can’t talk about the calls with people not on the squad, so we talk to each other,” Rojer said. “When you see someone in a crisis situation like we do with the other squad members, you really get to know them. I would trust anyone on this crew with my life.”
For Melanie Troncone, SORS has become an especially meaningful part of her life.
“If you do decide to join, you will work with an amazing group of people and they are all here for the same reason, and we become our own little family,” she said. “My most memorable experience was delivering a baby. It doesn’t happen often but I have been able to do it twice and it was awesome. I really enjoy knowing that if I help one person that night, I have truly made a difference.”
To learn more about South Orange Rescue Squad or volunteer, visit www.southorangerescuesquad.org.
Photos by Shanee Frazier