Cetronia Ambulance Corps To Celebrate 60 Years Of Saving Lives In Lehigh County

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Dinner Gala To Commemorate Progress, Training, Professionalism

Cetronia, Pa. — When supporters of Cetronia Ambulance Corps gather for its 60th anniversary dinner at Brookside Country Club on April 25, the celebration will be about much more than six decades of outstanding performance that has brought regional, state and national recognition to the organization.

It will be about people like Pat Earley Ward, who wouldn’t be here today if not for the training, experience and professionalism of Cetronia’s emergency responders. Just ask her husband.

“There is no doubt in my mind that they saved her life,” said Gary Ward, remembering that night in January 2008 when his wife dropped her book and slumped in her chair. Ward, who had been watching a movie that kept him up later than his usual bedtime, knew something was desperately wrong.

He laid her on the floor and called Lehigh County 9-1-1, which connected him immediately with the Cetronia communications center. Dispatchers kept him on the line, telling him how to do chest compressions while he awaited the arrival of paramedics.

They were there less than three minutes after he placed the call.

“They brought her back. She was dead. She didn’t have a heartbeat,” Ward said as he sat in his office at Ward’s Oriental Rugs in Allentown. “Without them, she wouldn’t be here to enjoy our success, to enjoy her friends and family. She wouldn’t be able to enjoy her 6-year-old grandson, and he wouldn’t be able to enjoy her.”

Larry WierschCetronia has always been on the cutting-edge of technology and training and that commitment has saved thousands of lives over the decades, said CEO Larry Wiersch.

“When I started in the 1970s, cardiac arrest patients almost always died or they had major heart damage,” he said. “Now many more of our patients live. There is a trust between the hospitals and our people. The doctors know our people know what they are doing.”

It has been like that since April 22, 1955 when a group of 20 suburban Allentown residents came together to form a new emergency service for western Lehigh County and supplement the only then-existing ambulance service operated by Allentown General Hospital. Working from a service station in their South Whitehall Township village, they reached out to the American Red Cross to get the first aid training they needed to begin.

The history of the service since then is as colorful as it is impressive.

The first ambulance was a 1948 Buick purchased for $1,500 from a Bucks County car dealer.

“He wanted to give it to us but we told him we would pay for it,” said Wilmer McNabb, one of only two surviving founders. “Our second ambulance was a Cadillac we got through an S&H Green Stamp drive.”

In the first year they responded to 29 calls. Today they respond to about 50,000 annually.

The service was officially chartered in 1962, when they answered 390 calls. Cetronia always had its own communications center, but in the early days the dispatchers often had to call duty crews at home. There were no radios or pagers.

In 1967 Cetronia opened a $100,000 facility at 3939 Broadway (then Hamilton Street). Call volume had reached 3,527 per year. Throughout most of the early years Cetronia funded its operations with hoagie sales, and crew members would take boxes of the sandwiches to manufacturing plants around Allentown to sell at lunch hour, McNabb remembers. “One guy told us once that we were more well-known for our hoagies than our ambulances,” he said with a laugh.

In the early 1970s Cetronia introduced EMTs, or Emergency Medical Technicians, to the crews.

By 1974 there were four Cadillac ambulances, a Dodge van unit with radio communications to the hospitals, and an $80,000 Mobile Emergency room in the Cetronia fleet.

In the early 1980s it was one of the first ambulance corps in Pennsylvania to add paramedics to its response teams.

Growth has continued throughout the 2000s. In 2008 Cetronia introduced its High Performance EMS System,   a sophisticated program that uses predictive modeling and looks at historical call data to strategically place ambulances at various locations throughout the service area to cut down on response times. The locations are all based on call and date tracking and updated regularly to keep them current, which allows Cetronia to constantly rotate their ambulances, providing a “Health on Wheels” model of EMS delivery.

Cetronia Ambulance BuildingThe operations, crew sizes and call volume continued to increase along with the Lehigh County population, and when Cetronia moved into its new, $10 million, 68,000-square-foot facility at 4300 Broadway in July 2014, the organization had 150 full-volunteer- and part-time responders and administrative employees, 19 ambulances, 18 wheelchair-accessible vans, a supervisors command vehicle, a Special Operations Truck, a Bicycle Medic team and three medical cars for non-emergency transports.

“When you think about how far we have come in a relatively short time, it’s amazing,” Wiersch said. “We still do have our volunteers who come out religiously on evenings, weekends and in the summer. We are very proud of our volunteer roots”.

McNabb, a Bethlehem Steel railroad retiree who remains active with the organization, says the growth continues to amaze him.

“It was really just started to serve Cetronia and the immediate area,” he said, recalling at least one person who told crew members they were crazy to start the service. “It just grew so fast, it’s unbelievable. If someone would have told me back then that we would have a $10 million building someday, I would have agreed that we were crazy.”

Cetronia’s “Health On Wheels Gala 60th Anniversary Celebration” will be held Saturday, April 25 at Brookside Country Club.  Doors open at 6 p.m. Dinner will be followed by a Casino Night with Silent Auction and Raffle. Tickets are $300 per couple, $175 individual. All proceeds support Cetronia’s life saving operations.  Please call 610-530-5511 or email stibitzc@cetronia.org to reserve your seats now.

Cetronia Ambulance is a tax-exempt, 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

For More Information:

Michael Keenan, President

Keenan-Nagle Advertising

1301 S. 12th St.

Allentown, Pa.

610-797-7100 ext. 2001