By working together as a single organization, the same dedicated group of EMTs and Rescue Associates will bring faster and better emergency care to both communities.
Throughout each of their decades-long histories, Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad and High Bridge Emergency Squad have pursued the same goal: Serving their communities by protecting the health and safety of the people who live in, work in, or visit their communities. Now, with the guidance of local residents, business owners, government officials, they are joining together to create one new organization to serve those communities better.
South Branch Emergency Services will officially launch on July 1.
Discussions that led to this important and necessary step began nearly two years ago. In the face of shifting populations, growing demands on limited resources, and a decline in the number of volunteer EMTs and rescue associates nationwide, the leadership of both organizations knew something had to be done to insure they could continue to provide high quality emergency services for many decades to come. In January 2019, a Steering Committee comprised of community residents, local business leaders, elected and appointed officials, and representatives from both emergency service organizations was formed. After reviewing current conditions and considering ways to improve them, the committee concluded that a merger was the best option. The committee, Clinton First Aid & Rescue, and High Bridge Emergency Squad, began forming a new organization that will build on the strengths of its two predecessors and seamlessly serve both communities.
South Branch Emergency Services will bring together the skills and dedication of High Bridge’s 20 volunteers, Clinton’s 90 volunteers, and Clinton’s 40 paid full- and part-time EMTs and instructors. During emergencies, residents of both municipalities will continue to be helped by their first-responder neighbors. Both the current Clinton building at 48 Old Highway 22 in the Town of Clinton and the High Bridge building at 95 West Main Street in High Bridge will remain open. High Bridge station’s evening staffing is currently on-call, but after the merger, staff will be on-site in the evenings, as will remain the case in Clinton. While they will sport new decals with the new organization’s name, High Bridge’s white ambulances and Clinton’s red ones will remain in service.
Strength in Numbers and Experience
“High Bridge residents will see many benefits – more staff, more specialty equipment at our disposal, and improved response times,” said High Bridge Chief John “JT” Silliman.
The strength of those additional numbers will benefit Clinton residents, too, agreed Clinton First Aid & Rescue Chief Frank Setnicky. “We will also be streamlining operations by having one administrative group instead of two. And, since we will reduce any equipment or vehicles that are redundant, we will also reduce the cost for all.”
“I know the merger is the right move for both organizations and the towns they serve,” said High Bridge Resident and Merger Steering Committee Vice-Chairman James Harris, a retired Union Township firefighter and EMT who now works as a Union County 911dispatcher. “More EMTs will allow for longer rest periods between shifts,” he said. This will lead to better retention of personnel while helping them to achieve a better balance of family/work/volunteer duties.”
“I have worked with both rescue squads for over 30 years, and they are very similar,” Merger Steering Committee Chairman and Clinton representative Dan “Doctor D” Torrone, a community activist and entertainer, said. “Clinton and High Bridge share the same mission. Both are built on a tradition of volunteerism that often includes multiple generations of local families. Both provide excellent emergency care, yet wanted to improve the services they offer our community. This merger does just that.”
South Branch Emergency Services will be led by a mix of current leaders from both organizations. Setnicky will be the first chief of the new organization. Silliman will be one of the first two battalion chiefs. Clinton President Sharon Burham will be South Branch’s first president. High Bridge President Melanie Ikenson Sloyer will be it’s first president-elect.
“I think this shows our unity, and that neither organization is more important or less important than the other organization,” Sloyer said.
Building Upon an Existing Relationship
The Clinton and High Bridge squads have always worked together: When one organization responds to a call for help, the other stands ready to step in if more hands are needed or a second emergency occurs. High Bridge is a 100 percent volunteer organization. Clinton is also mostly staffed by volunteers, but also has paid EMTs who cover the hours when volunteers aren’t available both in Clinton and in High Bridge.
Since January, members of the two squads have trained and drilled together, too. Clinton Deputy Chief for EMS Bucky Buchanan, who will retain that role with South Branch, invited High Bridge volunteers to join Clinton at Clinton’s training center. EMS squad members form friendships that feel more like family, and training together has helped to start forging those bonds among members of the two squads, Sloyer said.
That training center and the varied types of training it provides offers big benefits for current High Bridge volunteers, Silliman noted. “They can take advanced training there, and take on additional roles, such as becoming part of a rescue team.”
What’s In A Name?
Members of both organizations worked hard to choose a name that would represent both communities. The South Branch in South Branch Emergency Services refers to the South Branch of the Raritan River, which connects the two towns. The new organization’s logo features that river, along with an image of the Clinton’s iconic Red Mill and the graceful arches from which High Bridge takes its name.
Honoring the High Bridge and Clinton Traditions While Making History Together
High Bridge Emergency Squad and Clinton First Aid & Rescue Squad have served their communities for many decades. High Bridge was incorporated in 1953, and Clinton in 1968, both by people who saw a need in their community, wanted to help, and were willing to work hard to make it happen. Each has saved many lives. And each has created its own community, one where multiple generations of the same families volunteer, and unrelated volunteers become family.
“A lot of people put an awful lot of time into these organizations to start them. They put an awful lot of time in, and don’t want to just forget about that,” Silliman said. “We still have some of the sons of the founders who are active members.”
Setnicky notes this is not the first time that volunteers from High Bridge will respond to Clinton emergencies. “High Bridge covered the Clinton area before CFARS was founded,” he notes. “Now here we are in 2020 and back together as one organization,” he notes.
Sloyer notes that both the High Bridge and Clinton squad buildings have displays of old photos, awards, and newspaper clippings that tell its story.
“Those displays will stay, and we’ll be able to add to them with new pictures and newspaper articles that tell our new story together,” she said.