After two decades of service, Westerlo Rescue Squad to close

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Emotions shows on the faces of the Westerlo Rescue Squad members as they tell the town board Tuesday night that they will be closing at the end of this year. At center, reading the announcement, is Deborah Theiss-Mackey with her husband, Kenneth Mackey, beside her.

WESTERLO — With tears in her eyes, Deborah Theiss-Mackey, a life member of the Westerlo Rescue Squad, announced on Tuesday that the volunteer ambulance service will be closing at the end of the year.

Speaking at Westerlo’s town board meeting, Theiss-Mackey recounted the ups and downs of the rescue squad’s 22-year run: volunteers going into work sleep-deprived and missing holidays with their families, but always asking themselves how they could serve the townspeople.

“We have shed tears alone and some with you,” she said.

She stood with about half-a-dozen other members at the back of the town hall, some who were also crying. Her husband, Westerlo Rescue Squad Captain Kenneth Mackey, was at her side.

Fifteen members serve on the Westerlo Squad, a mere 0.4 percent of the town’s population of about 3,400, noted Theiss-Mackey, who is the squad’s secretary and treasurer and a member of its board of directors. She later told The Enterprise that only three emergency medical technicians and four drivers regularly serve. Also, the members have gotten older; this year, the average age is 60.

The rescue squad intends to close on Dec. 31 of this year, said Theiss-Mackey, with plans on how the town will be served to be further discussed.

Following the announcement and applause from the gallery, residents shared their gratitude and stories of times the ambulance squad had come to their aid.

Kelley Keefe said that the rescue squad had helped her on more than one occasion; Dianne Sefcik noted that the ambulance service had been especially helpful to her aging father. After the meeting, others came to Theiss-Mackey to exchange a few words or an embrace.

“I know how hard it is,” said Acting Supervisor William Bichteman, following the announcement. “And I for one express my gratitude.”

It’s not the first time that a local volunteer ambulance squad has closed due to an aging corps or shrinking number of members. Voorheesville Area Ambulance Service dissolved in 2016. The following year, Rensselaerville Volunteer Ambulance closed.

In both cases, the Albany County Sheriff’s emergency medical services division took over; the county ambulance is staffed by paid employees rather than volunteers. Increased coverage of the Hilltowns also led to the county gradually increasing its billing for services to the towns of Westerlo, Rensselaerville, and Berne.

Once the Westerlo Rescue Squad closes, the only remaining volunteer Hilltown ambulance squad will be Helderberg Ambulance, based in the town of Berne.

“We want the residents to know that we feel terrible about this and will continue to [do] everything we can to see they have what may be needed,” Theiss-Mackey wrote Tuesday night in an email to The Enterprise as she submitted her letter to the editor.

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