Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad celebrates 60th anniversary

SUMMIT, NJ — Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad celebrates its 60th anniversary of serving the community this summer. Sixty years ago, Sis Barker and Betty Bangs, both members of the Junior League, decided to start a first aid squad in Summit. They enlisted the help of a local businessman, Michael J. Formichella, who used his influence in the community to help organize the squad. On July 28, 1962, the Summit Volunteer First Aid Squad was formed.

Overlook Hospital donated its old ambulance, which the squad operated for a few months until it was able to purchase a new Cadillac ambulance. The ambulance was housed for a couple of years in Formichella’s garage on Broad Street; meetings and training took place in members’ homes.

A building fund was organized to construct a headquarters for the new squad. The city of Summit agreed to lease a piece of land on Summit Avenue, across from Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School, to the squad for $1 per year. Much of the work on the building, including excavating, plumbing, heating and electrical, was either donated or performed by volunteers. Among the charter members of the squad were an excavator, Formichella; a mason contractor, Andy Soccodato; and a heating contractor, Jim Burns. Construction was completed in 1964.

Since those humble beginnings, the squad has expanded to provide emergency services 24/7 to Summit and surrounding communities. No one has ever received a bill for squad services. The squad relies exclusively on donations from private citizens and foundations, receiving no funding from the city of Summit. All squad members are volunteers.

John Staunton joined the squad more than 30 years ago, shortly after returning home from Villanova University. He had some first aid experience as a lifeguard instructor and gained interest in EMS after witnessing an accident involving a friend at school. EMS has been a second career for Staunton, as his day job has been primarily as an engineer. He became a CPR and then EMT instructor at a young age and has served in multiple positions on the squad through the years, including as president and, currently, as chief.

“Serving on the Summit (Volunteer) First Aid Squad has been a great experience, where I’ve made some lifelong friends and had the chance to help many neighbors as well as perfect strangers. What I like most about the squad is how people from various backgrounds and walks of life can work together so effectively to fulfill such a vital mission,” said Staunton.

The lifesaving skills squad members learn can also be very valuable in everyday life, and Staunton has had several instances where that experience helped family, friends and co-workers.

Mel Harari joined the squad in July 2008 and has been the records lieutenant since 2009. She moved to the United States from Argentina in 2001. Without any prior medical experience, Harari attended EMT school. Two of Harari’s sons, both of whom became doctors, were junior members and thought she would enjoy becoming a volunteer.

“I’m not sure if they hadn’t been members of the squad, they would have become doctors,” said Harari. “ Being on the squad was a big exposure to the health care industry for them.”

During Harari’s years at the squad, she said, she has gained a level of empathy and understanding for individuals with physical issues that she never had before.

“I am now able to put myself in the position as a patient. My experiences helped me tremendously when my mother was ill. My knowledge assisted me in making decisions regarding my mother’s care,” said Harari. “The level of commitment people have here is not seen in other squads. I like the people I work with. We have good challenges and conversations among a group who are wise and listen to one another.”

An EMT since 2021, Mateo Zoubek joined the squad at age 17 as a member of the junior program. Zoubek, a student at Newark Academy, was interested in pursuing medicine as a career option and wanted experience in the field. Zoubek attended EMT school during the summer of 2021 and found the course much easier since he was familiar with equipment and had basic knowledge of patient assessments.

“I was exposed to being an EMT even though I wasn’t one,” said Zoubek. “You absorb the information, which makes becoming certified much easier.”

Zoubek decided to take a gap year after high school to obtain hands-on experience as an EMT to expand upon the limited patient interaction received as a junior member.

“Joining the squad is a great way to serve the community and obtain experience in the medical field I wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Zoubek. “I think it’s been a great steppingstone for my career choice. For adults who aren’t in the same career-choice position as I am, I think it’s a great way to serve the community in a productive manner.”

Zoubek is attending Georgetown University and plans to major in neurobiology.

Jenny McIlwain first joined the squad as a member of the junior program the summer after her sophomore year at Summit High School. She thought it would be a good indicator in determining whether she wanted to go into medicine or not.

“I think I had the best training during my time as a junior. Every single shift we would practice skills and training,” said McIlwain. “By the time I got to EMT school, I had a leg up on everyone else because I learned so much before going in.”

McIlwain completed EMT school in June 2021 and is majoring in neuroscience at the University of Washington in Seattle.

As the squad begins its seventh decade, it is actively seeking new members. Most people who join the squad have no prior medical experience. The squad offers an observer program that allows prospective volunteers to accompany a working crew for a shift or two. For more information, visit