Tarrytown Responds to Volunteer Ambulance Corps’ Emergency

First TVAC ambulance, a Cadillac, circa 1967.  Photo by Gregory Wilson

When the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps started in 1967, the corps’ rig was a Cadillac parked at a gas station. Headquarters was the village’s Neighborhood House. 

Pagers were years away, so whoever was on duty was alerted through a telephone network, meaning that anyone on call had to be at home and stay off the phone. 

By 1995, TVAC upgraded from a van to a box ambulance to meet needs that had grown to 300-400 calls per year. The corps was staffed completely by volunteers, subsisted wholly on donations and potluck dinners, and didn’t charge anyone for its services, its chairman, Alaric Young, said recently. 

The number of calls has grown exponentially over the years. In 2022, the corps responded to 1,326 calls, up from 1,080 in 2017, TVAC Captain Jill Swanson said.  

Amid rising call volume and a drop in volunteerism, the corps now has 13 paid employees who are either EMTs or drivers to supplement the 26 volunteers, many of whom provide basic first aid but are not EMTs, Swanson said. 

 “The difficulty is getting volunteers for drivers or EMTs,” Swanson said recently. “It’s a substantial commitment.”  

Dedication of TVAC’s second headquarters, circa1979-1980. Photo by Gregory Wilson

Demographic and cultural shifts that have led to TVAC’s lower volunteerism rate are mirrored locally and nationally. 

“Older long time volunteers are retiring, younger volunteers have their own careers and obligations,” Young wrote in a recent letter to members. “We have lost many to medical and nursing school and their careers.” 

In an effort to offset costs including hiring the professional EMTs required on every call, the corps ultimately needed to start billing insurance companies for transporting patients to hospitals. Still, expenses continued to rise as donations declined. 

“We were spending more than we were making,” Young wrote. “We explored and tried many ways to increase revenue, grants, fundraisers etc.” 

The TVAC recently reached an agreement approved by the village of Tarrytown’s Board of Trustees that allows the corps to bill the village for all calls in which the patient refuses medical attention, known as RMAs, for up to $120,000 per year. 

Ambulances outside TVAC headquarter in the early 2000s. Photo by Gregory Wilson

Last year, the TVAC had 198 RMAs, which still require a full response and often provide treatment at the scene. 

Young called the agreement “truly an important milestone in TVAC’s relationship with our village,” thanking Mayor Karen Brown and Trustee Bobby Hoyt and crediting Village Administrator Richard Slingerland with authoring the concept.  

“We’re not coming to the village asking for a handout,” Young said. “We’re actually performing a public service we cannot get compensated for.” 

Even with the addition of paid staff, the corps still retains its family spirit, said Young, who joined in 1995. 

“In some other organizations there’s a rivalry between the paid employees and the volunteers, but here they absolutely get along and we all still have that feeling of unity,” he said. 

Expressions of gratitude from people whose lives have been touched by the corps’ service are a common occurrence in the village. 

“One day while in the supermarket a woman stopped me and said, ‘You might not remember me, you came to my home for my husband,’ “ Young recalled. “Her eyes were getting wet as she looked at me intently, with her voice a little shaky, she just said ‘Thank you,’ then she just touched my hand and we continued on our way. By this time my eyes were getting wet too.”  

Young continued. “I don’t know the outcome of that call, but I do know that we were there for them and that we did the best we could, and no matter what, it was worth the doing.” 

Three family generations of Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps women. From left, Hallie Swanson, Pam Rifenburg, Captain Jill Swanson, Chairman Alaric Young, during the awarding of life membership to Pam Rifenburg at the TVAC picnic 2022. Photo by Jill Swanson.

The TVAC covers Tarrytown, serving a population of 11,000, as well as responding to calls on the New York State Thruway and Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. 

Swanson, whose mother, Pam Rifenburg, and daughter, Hallie Swanson, are also TVAC members, said the corps is always accepting new volunteers, providing all necessary training. 

Visit tarrytownems.org to volunteer, donate or for more information about the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended For You

About the Author: Robert Brum