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Tupper Lake Rescue & Emergency Squad turns 50 this Sunday

Dan McClelland


by Phyllis Larabie

On Sunday, September 1 the Tupper Lake Rescue & Emergency Squad will celebrate its 50th year in Tupper Lake. The officers and members will be holding an open house and family fun day. Everyone in the community is invited to 169 Main Street, from 11a.m. to 4p.m. There will be touch a truck including rescue, fire, police vehicles, Franklin County Stop DWI's Drunk Driving Simulator, Franklin County Sheriff's Department'a Child ID's, a bounce house, face painting, food, cotton candy, music and fun. It's all free and open to everyone.

Looking back in the popular history book Mostly Spruce and Hemlock, and searching through the back issues of the Tupper Lake Free Press and Herald in the late 1960s Tupper Lake was faced with a grave doctor shortage and was not able to maintain around the clock medical services at the then Mercy General Hospital. There was a growing need to expand the ambulance service due to the doctor-shortages.

Marcel Richer at the time provided the community ambulance service by transporting sick and accident victims to the Saranac Lake Hospital over 20 miles away. An average rescue call takes volunteers away from their families and jobs for just over two hours.

Ann LaVoy, the historian for the volunteer ambulance and emergency reported to Louis J. Simmons, author of Mostly Spruce and Hemlock that the new ambulance service was the dream of Robert Mensink, a business teacher at the local high school.

Mr. Mensink had some experience in a volunteer group before coming to Tupper Lake. David Wood and Robert went to Marcel with their idea of forming the new ambulance service. The three joined forces in organizing and getting the Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Emergency Squad service up and running. They enlisted the help of leading citizens like Harold J. Nichols, Paul Meader, Floyd Carmichael, Charles Bosman, John Stock, Charles F. Murray, Dan Dattola, Charles Dunning and Bernard Chartier and got the program off the ground.

At the first meeting of the Tupper Lake Volunteer Rescue, the volunteers heard from Marcel Richer who was the local funeral director and ambulance operator, was in favor of the volunteer ambulance organization. He stated that now was the time to start such an organization and not at the time that he would be forced to give it up. He explained the difficulty in obtaining qualified persons to assist him and if he became ill or retired the people in the community would need a new service.

On May 13, 1969 Tupper Lake held its first first aid course. It was under the direction of Charles Bosman and the training director for the newly formed Tupper Lake Volunteer Rescue and Ambulance. It was open to everyone interested in learning first aid useful in family life. It was also organized in the hope of getting people involved with the new ambulance service.

The course was taught by Charles Bosman, Bob Mensink, William Frenette and Vincent Lopardo.

Mr. Dattola so believed in the need of the ambulance service that he personally signed a note at the Tupper Lake National Bank to helped to buy and equip the first ambulance and started the first fund drive. He asked the local businesses for $100 and collected over $9,000. A Big Wolf Lake camp owner donated an impressive $4,000 alone.

In 1973 the members of the rescue squad presented Dan Dattola with a plaque for his major role in spearheading the first fundraiser which made the ambulance service a reality.

In August, 1969 a contractual agreement was entered into with the Village of Tupper Lake to house the ambulance and equipment in the Lake Street Garage and to cover heat, electricity, maintenance and gas for the vehicle. The ambulance was delivered on August 9. A contract was also entered into with the Town of Altamont which provided radio equipment including a base station at Mercy General Hospital and mobile unit in the ambulance.

On August 14, 1969 the first board members were elected. Robert Mensink was elected captain; Hubert Parent, co-captain; Charles Dunning, treasurer; Hubert Felio, secretary; and eight team leaders, Roland Richer, Dan Hinkson, Charles Bosman, John Stock, Richard DeForest, Vincent Lopardo, Tom Fortune and William C Johnson, Jr.

On September 1, 1969 the Volunteer Ambulance Squad handled its first call. The equipment consisted of a 1962 Cadillac and a 1963 Ford panel truck that was donated by Somers Garage. Besides answering hundreds of calls for sick and injured the ambulance service started stand-by service for special events such as Fourth of July and school sporting events. The volunteers held disaster drills and accident drills for training purposes.

The first Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course was given in 1970. With no trainings available in Tupper Lake, volunteers had to travel to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid twice a week for four months to receive the required training needed under state law. EMTs are required to refresh their certificate every three years.

All members of the rescue had to complete Red Cross training and some had completed one of three Emergency Medical Technician courses (EMT). They held first aid courses for the police, schools, village employees and anyone who was interested in learning.

In 1971 the Tupper Lake Central School donated a one-acre lot on High Street to the rescue squad. In just one day the walls went up with the volunteered help of local masons. The cost of the completed building came in under $20,000. By this time the ambulance service consisted of a 1974 Medicruiser, 1971 Hi-Rise ambulance and a 1966 pick-up which members transformed to a crash truck that was equipped with a generator, Port-A-Power unit, other things need for night time rescues. They were all equipped with oxygen and two-way radios.

With the help of so many volunteers and the cooperation of local businesses making the many materials needed at cost the construction of the building and equipment was paid for by the rescue squad without any taxpayer support. The members relied on memorial donations from the community and fundraising.

The squad covered calls from half way to Long Lake, to Piercefield, Childwold and Conifer areas as well as the entire Tupper Lake area. This is still true today. The rescue also covers back up calls when needed to assist Long Lake or Saranac Lake Rescue squads in the event of major car accidents or an over abundance of emergency calls.

On May 9, 1999 the present rescue building located at 49 High Street was dedicated to Ann LaVoy and a plaque was mounted to the outside of the building. Ann was a charter member of the squad. She served on the squad for 30 years. Ann was an EMT-Critical Care Tech, Red Cross instructor, served as a secretary, rescue historian, day supervisor, Team 8 Captain, and chief.

On April 21, 1982 she was elected the first woman chief of the squad. Up to 1982, she was the first woman chief in the entire upstate area. Ann passed away on January 15, 1999. The board and members agreed that the plaque will be taken down and the new building will be dedicated in Ann memory in the near future.

In May of 1999 the Town of Altamont took the initiative to help with the shortage of trained rescue personnel by offering to pay half of the estimated annual salary of an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). They also provided that person's health insurance. The Town of Altamont did this for only a few years. The rescue began billing for their services to cover costs of the trucks, equipment, gas and to cover the cost of having EMT's on 24/7.

Ben Morin was the squad's first paid staff member who was hired, because volunteers were having trouble covering the schedule with Critical Care Techs. Ben covered most of the weekday daytime slots for Advance Life Support and did a night shift or two for many years. Once the squad officers started billing the income eventually allowed the rescue to improve. It was able to purchase the rolling stock and equipment without struggling so hard. The Town of Altamont was able to stop assisting with the funds to pay the paid staff.

The squad now functions on the money from billing the insurance companies and on the memorial/thank you donations from family and friends of those who have been transported and served by the squad.

The agency now has contracts with Piercefield, Town of Tupper Lake, Santa Clara, and Harrietstown to cover their territory which is covered under each town's taxes.

The events of September 11, 2001 will be forever embedded in the minds of everyone, from the families of those affected by the planes hitting the Twin Towers, the plane that crashed into the Pentagon and in the Pennsylvania field, to all the emergency personnel who responded to the aid of those in need.

Don Jaquish, deputy coordinator of Essex County Emergency Services at the time led a team of rescue volunteers into lower Manhattan. Also, 36 EMT's, and six rescue trucks from agencies in the Franklin County area went to help with the rescue efforts at ground zero. Volunteers from our local rescue squad traveled to assist, although they did not actually get the opportunity to assist in any of the rescue efforts, it is an experience that will stay with them. A few of those who had this opportunity were Brian Dukett, Danielle Amell, Rod Bashant, Shawn Larabie and Ben Morin.

Bob Collier started volunteering with the squad around 1976. He remembers being horns-waggled into it by Tom Walsh. He got into the his first EMT course that was taught by Vince Lopardo at the community room at the Ivy Terrace here in Tupper Lake. Bob was chief for a few years, and sat on the board for several years.

About 1983 he took the second critical care tech (CCT) class that was held at NCCC. Bob was also a county delegate to the Mountain Lakes Regional EMS Council for many years, stepping down about 1998. He became an EMT instructor in the mid- 80's and taught EMT and then CCT courses here in Tupper Lake and in Saranac Lake for a number of years.

He also did a First Responder Course in Newcomb. He later went on to paramedic school at Hudson Valley Community college around 1993 with the objective of getting a job with North Country Life Flight. He was hired for North Country Life Flight in mid-1995.

Around 2000 he changed jobs to become a full-time paid medic for Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Emergency. Ben Morin and Bob covered pretty much all the schedule. Bob was a valued member of the squad and retired in October, 2013. He took some time off, but when the squad needed some shifts filled in Bob volunteered. Bob enjoyed his time on the squad. He once stated, "I was always gratified when I could get a very sick patient to smile or laugh during our journey to Saranac Lake.” He recalls never wanting to or never did have to assist a child birth in the ambulance, he remembers having a few close calls but no cigars. He was always glad to see folks stand up to help cover the schedule whether as volunteers or staff. He frequently told folks, "there's no such thing as 'just a driver'".

The squad at one point had a crash truck. The first one was a mechanic's truck donated by the Draper Corporation. Initially it was equipped with fairly primitive hand tools but later with the Jaws of Life power tools. The squad had trouble getting the trainings and staffing for this, so they gave it up, when the fire department members here decided they would take over that responsibility.

On February 28, 1991, was a tragic day for the Black family. It was the third for the family since 1951 when Aloney Black, 30 and Stephen Black, 21, cousins died as a result of their vehicle going through the ice in the channel between Raquette Pond and the Big Tupper. An air boat had to be flown in from Warrensburg, and divers had to be brought from Plattsburgh. Mike Chartier and Guy Hurteau were certified ice divers but the state police wouldn't allow them onto the ice during the incident because they weren't part of an agency. The two realized there was a need for a dive/ice rescue. Mike and Guy and fellow diver Tommy Snye, first approached the fire department who turned them away. They then approached the squad whose leaders said, "ok, we'll start a team for ice rescue".

Ice rescue is different than a “dive team.” Bob went to an ice rescue in Westport shortly after the Black incident. It was after that he wrote the first ice rescue protocols and got a grant from Senator Ron Stafford to buy the squad's first equipment in that field. The dive team was organized and put into motion in 1994.

The volunteers are prepared and trained to respond to water-related emergencies including potential drowning victims, recovery of victims or objects. The team over the years has been involved in both open water and ice rescues. They were willing to respond to aid victims human or pets who have gone through the ice. The team is made up of different people with different skills. There are certified ice divers and some are certified regular divers. The team also has other members who are standby safety personnel to assist on the boat. The dive team's rolling stock is now made up of one rescue boat, one pontoon boat and the Dive 5 truck which carries all the equipment for the divers and gives the divers a warm and safe place to change into their gear.

In April 2002 the Tupper Lake Moose Lodge #640 made a donation of $500 to the dive team to purchase a new camera. The donation made it possible to purchase a new state of the art underwater camera. The camera attaches to the bottom of the boat, transmits underwater photos to a black and white screen. The camera includes a light, it records videos so they can be viewed later for analysis.

The dive team helps with the Tin Man that has taken place here in Tupper Lake for over 30 years now. Traditionally the team members put out all the buoys for the Tin Man as well as having a boat with divers, EMTs, and safety personnel, in the water during the swimming portion of the event. The team has also helped with the Lake Placid Iron Man event. The members have also been on stand by during the local fishing derby event that is held every February. If needed the divers are dispatched under mutual aid to Saranac Lake, Long Lake.

About 2012 the squad officers hired Jordan Favro, with the impending retirement of Bob Collier.

Jordan is a paramedic and lives in Lake Placid. He is also a firefighter and is an assistant chief in Lake Placid. Jordan handles all of the daily functions of the squad, from billing to ordering supplies, as well as covering rescue calls.

In 2016 the squad decided to hire a paid driver due to the shortage of drivers during the hours of 6 a.m. and 6p.m. Monday through Friday when most of the volunteers are at work.

In November 2016 the squad's board of directors applied for a special permit to establish its new headquarters at 169 Main Street, the former Bartel Motors. With the new rigs the squad had outgrown its previous location of 49 High Street.

At the November 2016 planning board meeting the permit was approved and the squad members moved forward with renovations to bring the Bartel building up to code for the ambulance. The upstairs of the building was converted to living quarters for the paid techs, while the bays were brought up to meet operational needs. A security system also had to be installed.

Chief Wayne LaPierre said he hopes that the state Department of Transportation will soon install a caution light that can be switched on as the ambulance leaves the bay to alert on coming traffic that the rescue will be entering the roadway.

On March 1, 2017 the Tupper Lake Rescue will officially move into its new location at 169 Main Street.

In 2018 the Tupper Lake Rescue Squad purchased a brand new 2019 PL Custom medallion series vehicle with a “medic in mind” interior layout and mounted on a 2019 Ford E450 chassis. On August 2, 2019 the brand new ambulance took its first call.

The squad currently has five rigs, Dive 5 is a 2000, Rescue 569 is the newest rig is a 2016; Rescue 767 is a 2006, is used for the dive team, The squad is made up of approximately 40 members. It currently has five volunteer EMT's, one paid driver, eight paid employees that travel from Canton, Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Massena and Malone.

If anyone would like to make a donation to this very worthy cause, checks should be mailed to the Tupper Lake Volunteer Ambulance and Emergency Squad at PO Box 901, Tupper Lake, NY 12986. All donations are greatly appreciated and will be used to help with the cost of acquiring supplies and new equipment. The squad is also always in need of volunteers. If anyone is interested in becoming a volunteer, they can contact any member of the rescue or stop at the station and pick up an application.

The squad members appreciate the ongoing support from the residents of this and neighboring communities.