Our Amazing Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps

Last month, one of my son’s teammates was injured during a scrimmage. Just moments after the coaches called 911, an ambulance from the Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps pulled into the MRC parking lot. I was not surprised to see a fellow Madison parent and good friend, JJ Pullaro, come out of the ambulance and rush onto the field. For the past several years, JJ has been a volunteer EMT with the MVAC, in addition to his day job at a technology company in NYC. I asked JJ to tell us a bit about what led him to become an EMT, and how we as a community can help the MVAC continue to run.

JJ Pullaro (right) and fellow Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps EMTs at 2019 Bottle Hill Day.

JJ Pullaro (right) and fellow Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps EMTs at 2019 Bottle Hill Day.

A Madison Mom: When and why did you start volunteering with MVAC? 

JJ Pullaro: I first started with the MVAC in June of 2016, and it is a culmination of events that landed me here. I’ve always been interested in the medical field. My mother was a registered nurse and worked in the ER, so I grew up hearing about hospitals, medical care and medical emergencies. After graduating college, I was registered to take an EMT certification course, but I landed a job that prevented me from being able to take the class.

Fast forward 20 years. I work for a technology company in New York City and commute into Manhattan by train. One early spring morning, the train begins to slow and the scratch of the public address system breaks the silence of the train car. The train conductor comes over the speaker to make an announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a sick passenger on the train. If there is anyone on board with any medical experience, can you please walk to the front of the train.” I vividly remember my fellow commuters and I gasping, looking at each other, and remaining frozen in our seats. None of us felt we could help - we were not doctors or nurses or medical professionals. The train pulls into the next station, and waiting on the platform and at the ready was a team of EMTs. Although I can assume the outcome was good - the sick passenger was able to talk and walk off the train - I have never forgotten that utter feeling of helplessness and not knowing what to do. It was that feeling of helplessness, and the image of the waiting EMTs that lead to my decision to join the MVAC.

AMM: Did you have any medical background before you started training?

JP: No.  The closest I came was getting my First Aid Merit badge as a Boy Scout!

AMM: What was training like? 

JP: To be able to practice as an EMT in the State of New Jersey, you need to take an accredited EMT Certification class. The state of NJ has an Education Fund specifically for those wanting to become an EMT. So training is free if you become a Member and are sponsored by MVAC. The class is pretty intense! Outside of the time commitment - 8 hours every Saturday from September through December with a few Sundays thrown in - this college-level class is a split between traditional classroom learning, technical skills and hospital clinical time. My cohort was made up of people of all ages, from different areas of New Jersey, and from all walks of life - business professionals, high school students, firemen and recent retirees. I would say my favorite - and most nerve racking - part of class was the Skills Sections. Technical Skills simulate real-world medical emergencies, where classmates played the part of sick patients, and teammates worked together to assess, treat, and stabilize the sick patient. Applying classroom learning to what actually happens in real life, with real people, certainly increases the adrenaline factor.

AMM: What has been the most rewarding part of volunteering with MVAC? 

JP: It’s difficult to choose just one, but the greatest reward is being able to help people when they are at their most vulnerable.  We are well aware that no one ever wants to call 911 or go to the hospital. As EMTs, our primary goal is to provide comfort, calm, and excellent care so that patients can get advanced treatment they need at the hospital. 

AMM: Tell me something about MVAC that you think many Madison residents don't know. 

JP: I think it is important to know that the Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps never charges. If you call 911, and an MVAC Ambulance is dispatched, you will be cared for and treated by Certified EMTs, and transported to the hospital at no charge whatsoever.  

Oh, and a second thing people may not know is that we are on-call 24 hours a day, every day of the year. For those of us on an overnight shift (like me), we don’t actually need to stay at the building. We carry radios that are tied to the 911 system and Madison Police Dispatch. If a call goes out, we get ‘toned out’ over the radio, and via text message.  This allows us to sleep at home, and either scramble to the building or go straight to the scene in an emergency.

AMM: How can the community support MVAC?

JP: Unfortunately, across the country, the viability of volunteer-only first responder agencies are in decline. This is due to a waning number of volunteers, a decrease in donations, and increased competition from paid ambulance services. The MVAC is no different. As I mentioned earlier, the MVAC never charges for the service we provide to our community, but we do see a steady decline in donations necessary to keep our fleet of ambulances and crews running. 

So, how can you help?  You can support the MVAC by making a monetary donation. Being a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization, all donations are 100% tax deductible, and go directly to supporting the operation. We run a semi-annual fund drive campaign, and accept donations on our website - www.madisonems.org.

How else can you help? You can donate your time and talent! We need new volunteer members - specifically those wanting to be EMTs - to come work with us. For qualified candidates, we offer flexible schedules and pay for all training. If you are not interested in the EMT track, you can still join us as an administrative member, by offering your expertise in helping to run the business operations of MVAC.

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The Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps is located at 29 Prospect Street, Madison. (973) 377-2229 www.madisonems.org

Upcoming fundraising events are:

Trunk or Treat: Friday, October 25 from 6pm-7pm. (set-up starts at 5pm) $10 vehicle entry, $2 for all other admission. Visit www.madisonems.org/content/trunk-or-treat to register.

Designer Handbag Bingo: Friday, November 8 from 6pm-11pm (calling begins at 7pm). $45 per ticket, group discounts available. Admission includes 15 games of Bingo, a 50/50 raffle, and other great prizes. Visit the Madison Volunteer Ambulance Corps Facebook page for details and to register, or visit: https://squareup.com/store/MVAC

The Fall Fund Drive letter is coming out in November so Madisonians should watch for it in their mailboxes!