June 17, 2020
By: Sarah McCormick
SUN CITY CENTER – Situated within Sun City Center is a little building with a whole lot of heart – the Sun City Center Emergency Squad. Filled with over 400 volunteers, the location offers free emergency medical transport to the hospital, transport to vital medical appointments, free blood pressure checks on a daily basis, and other vital services for residents within the community.
Perhaps the most incredible of all is the fact that they are up and running even through the COVID-19 crisis, a service many residents simply couldn’t do without.
The Sun City Center Emergency Squad got it’s humble beginnings back in 1964 when a doctor local to the area decided it was just not okay for people in a growing elderly population to have to wait the 45 minutes for ambulatory transport that it would take back in those days. Knowing a lot of lives would be lost, he knew he needed to do something. He compiled a group of volunteers to form what would become the Emergency Squad. He organized training and even acquired a hearse to use for ambulatory transport. In those 55+ years, things have only gone uphill.
Their website states that their motto is, ‘Neighbors helping Neighbors.” The center operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year.
According to their website, “We provide basic life support emergency services, wheelchair van transportation to appointments for those who are wheelchair-bound, blood pressure checks, and more – all at no cost. Everything we do for our community is free.” The organization responds to nearly 5,000 calls per year and covers an estimated 20,000 residents per year during the peak season.
Operating on nothing but community donations, the facility operates 1 fund drive per year – but they continuously receive all of the funding they need. Aside from monetary donations, other types of donations are gladly accepted, such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.
We spoke with Chris McCann, Assistant Chief of HR at the Organization. She told us what an incredible environment it is to volunteer for the facility and shared some pertinent information those looking for volunteer opportunities should know.
“Our volunteers all have each other’s back. We become like a family. We look at pictures of each other’s grandchildren, and we laugh together and cry together.” She went on to say, “The average stay of our volunteers is 5+ years. Some of our volunteers have been here for upwards of 30 years.”
The process to become a volunteer for the center is easy. There is a form on their website that you will fill out and submit online, and can expect to hear back from them when and if volunteers are needed.
When asked what the average age of volunteers was, she replied, “The average age is 72 years old. However, we do have volunteers of all ages. We train all volunteers on site, however; we do have EMT training at a local community college.” Their website states they train volunteers in CPR with certification, as well as other types of training.
Additionally, McCann added, “Due to COVID, we have been asking our volunteers to come in once every 8 days. We understand a lot of them can’t make it in right now due to health conditions. Some of them have children that don’t feel safe with them coming in right now, and that’s okay. But, we have some volunteers that are coming in 5 days a week, for 6-8 hours a day. It’s such dedication.”
When asked if anything has changed due to COVID-19 concerns, she stated, “Our Chief, Mike Bardell, has been very proactive. They have had custom fit Montana Masks created for every responder. His wife and son ensured they worked around the clock to make sure all 100 of our responders had the mask they needed to stay safe and keep patients safe as well.” Additionally, they are screening all volunteers when they come in the door for fevers and symptoms to ensure safety and health. All volunteers have been COVID antibody tested.
Some of the other services offered to the community are symposiums on things senior citizens may face, such as strokes, fall prevention, heart attacks, and more. The center works directly with local area hospitals. They also have a loan program in which canes, walkers, and wheelchairs are loaned out for 90 days at a time. If a resident needs to loan the items for an extended period, the discussion can certainly happen to ensure they have what they need.
“Most of the local residents realize that sooner or later, every household is going to need the services we provide at some point. They realize that it will be $800.00 to attain an ambulance from the county for a short ¾ mile ride to the hospital. We offer all of our services free of charge. What we cant do, we refer out to Hillsborough. But we do a lot.”
For more information, you can reach the Sun City Center Emergency Squad’s non-emergency line at 813-633-1411, or for an emergency, call 813-634-3800. Additionally, you can visit their website at www.sccems.com.