The American Legion Ambulance service which serves the Smyrna-Clayton area is seeking donations for a live-saving CPR device and asking for volunteers to help both with the ambulance service and with administrative tasks like fundraising.

The American Legion Ambulance serving the Smyrna-Clayton area has a proud history dating back nearly 100 years, but responding to the ever-growing demands of two communities is requiring changes and a call for more donations and volunteers.

American Legion Post 14 and the ambulance service agreed to change the administrative operation of the ambulance as one way to help acquire more funding.

“As the American Legion, we are a military organization and we could not get certain grants for the ambulance service,” said Mike Havel, a past commander of American Legion Post 14 and a volunteer with the ambulance.

He said the key reason for the change in the administrative structure of the ambulance service was to qualify for “501c3” nonprofit status.

“Changing the ambulance service to a 501c3 nonprofit corporation allows us access to hundreds and hundreds of grants for training, equipment, ambulances and even building modifications,” he said.

Nine-member board now oversees ambulance

“American Legion Post 14 was started in 1919 by World War I veterans whose sole purpose was to start an ambulance,” Havel said. “By 1924 they had raised enough funds to buy an ambulance. We have the distinction of being the first American Legion ambulance service in the world.”

After operating the ambulance for more than 90 years, the American Legion members agreed to a change to help continue the service for future generations.

A new constitution and by-laws were approved by both Post 14 and the ambulance service in July 2015.

A nine-member board of directors for the ambulance service was installed in December 2015 with the following members:

• three members from American Legion Post 14 – Scott Holmes, Owen Cole and Tony Patti;

• three members from the ambulance service – James Bianco, Minor Hardin and Chris Manganelli;

• three members from the community – Buddy Lloyd, Mark Carlson and Bill Pressley Sr.

“Everyone voted to keep the ‘American Legion Ambulance’ name because of our history,” said Ambulance Captain Russ Stinson. “We’re still part of the American Legion family. We just have separate business interests now.”

The members of Post 14 and the ambulance service agreed that three community members on the board would make the operation more transparent and provide a needed thread of community influence, Stinson said.

Lloyd was selected as chairman of the board, with Carlson as vice chairman and Bianco as treasurer.

The administrative staff of the ambulance service reports to the board.

Growing demand, growing costs

Once staffed solely by volunteers, the rise in population in the Smyrna-Clayton area and the growing demand for ambulance service now requires a combination of volunteers and paid staff.

The first paid staff members were hired in 2000. The ambulance service now has 27 paid staffers and about 20 active volunteers who are certified just like the paid staff. Two ambulance crews are on call 24 hours a day.

Lloyd said 10 years ago, the ambulance service was making 2,500 to 2,600 runs each year.

“We’re now responding to almost 4,000 calls per year,” he said. “That’s more than 10 a day.”

That means the ambulances and equipment wear out faster, and more medical supplies are needed. Meanwhile, the organization tries to keep up with the latest medical advances.

“Like any business, with technology, it’s always evolving,” said Carlson. “With the influx of people moving into this area, many don’t know we’re a nonprofit organization, partially staffed with volunteers, and we rely on donations for a good deal of our funding.”

The organization recently remounted a 2008 box on a new ambulance chassis costing $160,000. An older box was installed on the new chassis to save money.

“Another ambulance has over 290,000 miles on it,” said Stinson.

Ambulance Service Director Brad Gosch explained the state requires certain equipment on each ambulance and since there are few companies that make the specialized equipment, the prices are usually high.

A motorized lift-assist stretcher that can move a patient from the ground level to the ambulance level costs over $18,000. A pulse-oxygen measuring device costs $5,600. Hand-held radios for each person are about $3,700 each. The pen-like injection device to treat allergic reactions costs $350 and the organization is required to have two on each ambulance.

The American Legion Ambulance budget for the current year is $1.2 million. Funding comes from billing patients for services, state money based on life insurance funds, money from traffic violations divided among emergency medical services, an annual donation from Kent County, the organization’s annual fund drive sent through the mail and other fundraisers throughout the year.

Collecting fees for ambulance services can be a challenge, said Ambulance Support Services Director Jeanette Havel. You have to provide the service with no guarantee you’re going to get paid.

She said only about 67 percent of the runs can be billed. That’s because while the ambulance is required to respond to a call such as a traffic accident or a fire, if no one needs medical assistance or transport to the hospital, then there’s no one who can be billed.

Out of the 67 percent of billable runs, only about 48 percent of the bills are paid, Jeanette Havel said.

“Due to insurance companies paying below the cost of transport, not being able to bill for medication we administer to patients, or ambulance transport not be considered necessary by the insurance company, those are all issues that we face when billing for our services,” she said.

Fundraising for life-saving CPR device

One of the immediate goals of the ambulance board is to buy three Lucas CPR devices, Lloyd said.

“The Lucas device provides constant, continuous compressions for CPR that increase the chance for a patient to survive,” he said. “It will help save lives.”

Ambulance Service Director Brad Gosch explained when a person gives CPR, there will likely be changes in the pressure or timing of the compressions, plus a person gets tired.

“We’re doing CPR standing up in the back of the ambulance as were going down the road and if we have to switch off from one person to another during the compressions, then the compressions aren’t going to be the same,” Gosch said. “The Lucas device gives complete, accurate and consistent compressions the entire time.”

Based on medical studies, a patient receiving CPR from a Lucas device has 32 to 40 percent greater rate of their heart restarting, compared to a patient receiving CPR compressions by a person, Gosch said.

Lloyd and Carlson said the ambulance board members have voted on acquiring Lucas devices as an immediate priority.

“As the board, we ask the ambulance service what they need now, three years down the road, five years down the road and so forth. The Lucas device is something they need now,” said Lloyd. “We’d like to get three of them because we have two ambulances in service at all times, and the third would be a backup.”

How to help

To help American Legion Ambulance buy a Lucas CPR device, send donations with “Lucas device” in the check memo line to American Legion Ambulance, 900 Smyrna-Clayton Boulevard, Smyrna, DE 19977.

The American Legion Ambulance is also hosting fundraisers like the one Saturday, May 20 at Wayback Burgers in the Smyrna Mart, 112 E. Glenwood Ave., from 4-8 p.m. Ten percent of the sales during those hours will be donated to the ambulance service. Visitors will also have the chance to meet “Roadie the Rapid Responder” and members of the ambulance crew.

Volunteers are always needed, Lloyd said, both on the emergency response side and on the administrative side.

For emergency response, volunteers must meet the same standards as the paid emergency medical technicians, but training is provided so volunteers can attain their certification.

Administrative volunteers can help with fundraising, grant writing and other tasks like helping with the ambulance’s community Easter egg hunt or preparations for the Fourth of July Parade.

Teenagers who have an interest in emergency medical services can join as junior members and receive training and also volunteer service hours for school groups or scouting organizations.

“The hours the volunteers provide help us reduce our costs,” said Lloyd. “Their service is greatly appreciated.”

For more information, call 653-6465 or see the website www.ambulance64.com.