Weekly Feature

2013-01-10 / Front Page

Lifesavers continue to meet the challenge

LVAC celebrates 60 years
by JOLENE ZANGHI Editor


The Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ first fully equipped emergency rescue vehicle was purchased in the mid-1950s. From left: Chief Earl Sweitzer, Dr. Albin Kwak, Dr. Albert Addessa, Capt. Victor Ott and Sgt. Carl Uebelhoer. Above, Paul Welker and Chester Popiolkowski, right, stand next to the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ newest emergency vehicle at its headquarters on Embry Place in Lancaster. Welker has been a member of LVAC since it formed in 1953, 60 years ago. Popiolkowski, the group’s president, joined in 1983. 
Photos courtesy of the LancasterVolunteer Ambulance Corps The Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ first fully equipped emergency rescue vehicle was purchased in the mid-1950s. From left: Chief Earl Sweitzer, Dr. Albin Kwak, Dr. Albert Addessa, Capt. Victor Ott and Sgt. Carl Uebelhoer. Above, Paul Welker and Chester Popiolkowski, right, stand next to the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ newest emergency vehicle at its headquarters on Embry Place in Lancaster. Welker has been a member of LVAC since it formed in 1953, 60 years ago. Popiolkowski, the group’s president, joined in 1983. Photos courtesy of the LancasterVolunteer Ambulance Corps Oxygen, a box of bandages and homemade splints.

These were the few supplies members of the Lancaster Town Police Ambulance carried with them on their calls around the neighborhood in 1953.

(See editorial on page four)

Paul Welker said the group of 14 did what it had to do to respond to emergencies and save lives.

“We used plywood, plastic sleeves and some padding and made our own splints,” Welker said. “We didn’t have any money, so we did our best. We loaded [patients] in the car and got them to the hospital as fast as we could.”

Welker, a founding member of what is now known as the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said there was a great need for emergency care in the early ’50s because residents would have to wait hours before an ambulance would drive out from Buffalo.

The delay caused many lives to be lost.

Now, 60 years later, much has changed, including the care administered in the ambulance and the response time.

In 2012, the LVAC responded to more than 4,000 emergency calls. Its average response time is less than five minutes. It has around 85 state-certified emergency medical technicians and paramedics on its roster. Some members are instructors of workshops and training sessions held at the group’s headquarters at 40 Embry Place in Lancaster. Others are teachers at Erie Community College. All members are dedicated life-savers.

The first responders serve both the Town and Village of Lancaster and the Village of Depew.

Chester Popiolkowski, the president of LVAC, joined in 1983.

“Today, it is found if you can do more definitive care in the field, when you do get the patient to the hospital, the outcome of survival is much greater,” Popiolkowski said.

He added that the LVAC has begun administering hypothermia care for cardiac arrest victims; if medics are able to get a solid heartbeat from an individual, the person is given fluids, which are kept inside coolers in the ambulance. The fluids chill the body, slowing the traumatic process.

Welker said the group’s first vehicle was a late-’40s Mercury station wagon. Now, the fleet consists of six modern ambulances and one paramedic response vehicle.

Devices and materials stocked in the ambulances, such as defibrillators and various medicines, are paramedic-ready and prepared to respond to any situation at any hour, Popiolkowski said. Each vehicle costs around $160,000, which doesn't include the $50,000 worth of supplies and equipment inside.

However, Popiolkowski said people cannot put a price tag on safety.

“If we can change the outcome for one patient, to me the cost of it is worth it,” he said.

With a combined total of 90 years of service to their community, Welker and Popiolkowski have experienced the highs and lows of being a first responder.

“You go through a lot and you see a lot,” Popiolkowski said. “I have delivered two babies, and I have had calls that until this day are in my mind and really tear me apart.”

The LVAC is brainstorming ways to get the younger population involved in its organization. There are three members less than 30 years old who currently serve on its board. Popiolkowski said their new perspective will only help to advance LVAC’s mission and help it remain a community staple in the future.

Being a part of the group’s past is something Welker is proud of. But the LVAC veteran said being a part of the Depew and Lancaster community is even more important.

“When someone walks over to you, shakes your hand and says, ‘Thank you. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here today,’ that makes it all worthwhile,” he said.

LVAC will mark its 60th anniversary with a dinner on Feb. 9 at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens. A special commemorative program, titled “Continuing to Meet the Challenge,” will be published for the event, and businesses and individuals in the community are encouraged to sponsor the congratulatory book. To place an ad in the publication, call 683-3282. For more information, visit www.lancasterambulance.org.

email: jolenez@beenews.com

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