John R. Platt 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Connecticut Club Has Provided Ambulance Service Since Its Charter Nestled in the mountains of northwest Connecticut, the quintessential New England town of Norfolk is home to 1,600 year-round residents, the famous Yale Summer School of Music, three beautiful state parks, an annual chamber music festival and an occasional fall off a ladder, a heart attack and a car accident with injuries. That’s where the town’s unique Lions club comes in. The Norfolk Lions Club was founded in 1951 with the sole purpose of creating a local ambulance service for this isolated community, which sits 10 to 15 miles away from the nearest hospitals. More than 60 years later, the Norfolk Lions Ambulance Association, a separate organization funded by the Lions club, remains the primary provider of emergency medical services for Norfolk and portions of the surrounding towns. “The ambulance runs on Lions’ money,” says two-time club President John Funchion, who also volunteers as one of the ambulance drivers. “We provide almost all of the necessary operating funds.” The club funds 97 percent of the association’s annual budget; the rest comes from grants and the governments of Norfolk and neighboring towns. The help of the Lions distinguishes the ambulance in another way. “We're one of only nine all-volunteer ambulance services left in this region of Connecticut,” says Marc Tonan, chief of the ambulance service. “There's no charge from us for any of our rescue operations, or from any of the paramedics that come out to help through us.” In 2011, the ambulance went out on a record 270 calls, handling more than 99 percent of the emergencies in Norfolk, covering everything from heart attacks and broken bones to traffic accidents. The original 25 members of the Norfolk Lions Club not only got the service started with its first ambulance—a converted old black Cadillac hearse—they also built a garage to house it. That building was intended to be temporary. “We didn’t even have a bathroom until about eight years ago,” Tonan says. But it lasted until 2010 when the association's new emergency services building opened after nearly five years of planning. More than twice the size of the original garage, the new building contains a full basement for storage and a large training room. It also includes a communications center, privacy-protected records, two bathrooms and a shower, a laundry for soiled linens and an office for the resident state trooper. The building also serves as a storm shelter for emergencies such as the unexpected Halloween 2011 snowstorm, which knocked power out in the region for six days. “People plugged in their phones and laptops, as well as personal medical equipment, and it gave residents a place to get warm and have meals,” Tonan says. The $750,000 facility was funded through a $400,000 Small Town Economic Assistance grant from the state of Connecticut. The town of Norfolk, which also covers the building’s utilities and insurance, paid the remaining $350,000. “That gave us an empty building,” says Funchion’s wife, Susanne, who served on the building committee. The Norfolk Lions Club pledged an additional $107,000 for furnishings and other necessary equipment. Careful shopping stretched that budget and the Funchions report the club still has around $40,000 left. That money will soon be put toward buying a new ambulance to replace the current one, which has been in operation since 2000. Although volunteers are on duty 24/7, the building itself is not usually staffed. “We have many first-responder kits around town,” Tonan says. All volunteers carry emergency radios, so when a call comes in the nearest EMTs can head directly to the site, often arriving before the driver with the ambulance. The service currently has a core team of about 50 volunteers, nearly all of whom were trained through Lions’ funds, Tonan says. In addition to EMT training and other medical certifications, the association holds monthly training sessions covering new equipment and other skills that need to be periodically reviewed. They also host emergency medical responder and emergency medical technician courses and well as regional training. With its high elevations, icy winter roads and aging community, the association plays an important role in Norfolk. “Most people in this town know the person who comes to their aid,” Tonan says. “When you're hurt and scared and someone you know walks through the door, it makes a huge difference. It helps keep their anxiety level down and it helps in their recovery. We're not a bunch of strangers. That’s rare in ambulance work these days.” Meanwhile, “the community is incredibly supportive of the ambulance,” John Funchion says. The Norfolk Lions Club hosts apple sales, pancake breakfasts, Valentine’s Day chocolate sales, spaghetti dinners and an annual auction to raise money for the ambulance service. They also mail an annual appeal letter, which is their biggest fundraiser. While the ambulance remains their main focus, the Norfolk Lions also support other local causes as well as Lions Clubs International initiatives. They provide funds for eye examinations for needy children, support an alcohol- free high school graduation party, send two students to the United Nations every year, and offer scholarships to Norfolk students heading off to college. Lions also supply the flags that are given out at the annual Norfolk Memorial Day parade, one of my most important childhood memories. My father—a Norfolk native, veteran and former Lion—took us back to his hometown for this parade every year while I was growing up, which is where I first saw the ambulance and the words “Lions Club.” The Norfolk Lions also host an annual appreciation dinner for the Ambulance Association, which boosts the sense of camaraderie between the two organizations, Tonan says. While only four members of the Ambulance Association are currently also Lions, there has been quite a bit of crossover through the years. And the number of people involved is impressive: out of the 1,600 people living in Norfolk, 50 volunteer for the ambulance and another 30 belong to the Lions club. “That's a huge part of the town that's involved with this effort,” Tonan says. “That really puts it into a neat perspective.” For information on the Norfolk Lions Ambulance Association, visit www.norfolkambulance.com.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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