Westerlo Rescue Squad will answer its last call in December

To the Editor:

Twenty-two-plus years ago the EMS (Emergency Medical Services) Battalion of the Westerlo Fire Company came to the realization, as did many other fire-company EMS entities, that it was becoming next to impossible to meet the demands of EMS and the demands placed on those individuals to maintain membership status of the parent fire company.

This led to many EMS battalions leaving their respective fire companies and starting independent EMS agencies mostly recognized as rescue squads. For the past 21 years, Westerlo Rescue Squad has provided emergency medical services to the townspeople of the town of Westerlo and the neighboring people when called in to mutual aid.

We started answering approximately 200 calls a year and within a few short years the call volume jumped to 350-plus and has stayed consistently in this range.

The members of the Westerlo Rescue Squad are volunteers and just like members of other volunteer agencies our members have jobs, families, and responsibilities. We have parents or have had parents that need their help as they go through the aging process and/or illness.

Squad members have given up or rearranged holiday and family get-togethers, missed their children’s various school events, and have gone to work sleep-deprived due to helping someone in need during the night.

To answer your call, members have done very quick arranging of babysitting or changing of another responsibility so that an EMT (emergency medical technician) or driver could be freed up to complete a call. 

In addition to responding to your EMS requests, the members have attended numerous hours of continuous training to keep us current with the best practices of EMS. We have attended many meetings and spent many hours assessing how things were working, what could or should change, always asking are we doing everything we can to provide the best care to our town’s people.

We have visited the many daycares and preschools to teach our youngest residents the importance of playing safe and how to call for help if needed.

We have cared about our patients and their families many times with more emotion and concern than you may know, always wanting to know that we did our best and that you felt better just because of it. We have experienced our friends, family, and strangers who have become friends, get better and some who didn’t. We have shed tears alone and with some of you.

Many of you can understand that volunteers in all areas are dwindling. This is our issue as well. Out of a town of 3,356 residents per the 2017 census only 0.4 percent of the people are choosing to volunteer for the Westerlo Rescue Squad. The average age of our members is 60 years old.

It is because we still care that we are recognizing once again that there needs to be a change, not only for Westerlo but for many areas across the states. EMS providers work from the heart. We are caring people who go a step above the rest to care for a neighbor or stranger and expect nothing in return.

EMS is an entity that is not looked at as an essential need through the eyes of our governments. It is not included as a necessity as they do fire services. It exists because of years and years of people providing a needed service only because they care.

There are no monetary expectations. Towns have provided EMS services because the town board members have cared enough to respond to their people’s needs and because people like us have so graciously given up our time, wants, and needs to answer your call for help. This has changed.

So, after much consideration, many emotions from tears to sadness to anger at times, the board of directors and members of the Westerlo Rescue Squad have made the difficult decision to cease EMS response as of midnight Dec. 31, 2019.

While we may not be members of Westerlo Rescue Squad anymore, I will not say that we will stop providing care to our towns people because I believe our members will continue to care for their neighbors, friends, family, and, yes, even strangers if needed.

We are making this decision so that a new era of EMS can hopefully begin to evolve. We are continuing to work with the Albany County Sheriffs EMS Division, the Westerlo Town Board, and our neighboring EMS agencies to see that there will continue to be someone to answer your or even our call of need in the future. 

We want to thank the many people who have supported us over the past 21 years as well as those who have volunteered in the past and those who continue to volunteer today. 

Life is ever-changing. Healthcare, whether in the form of a local doctor or EMS, will always be needed but how it will be provided may look different in the future. 

Debbie Theiss-Mackey, RN/EMT for

The Westerlo Rescue Squad

Board of Directors and Members

Editor’s note: Debbie Theiss-Mackey is a life member of the Westerlo Rescue Squad, and serves as the secretary/treasurer on the board of directors. See related story.

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