Description & History

OUR HISTORY : The concept of a volunteer ambulance serving a community within the boarders of New York City was not a new concept in 1975. Many had been doing so for years. In Bensonhurst, however, the sole source for pre-hospital emergency care was through the NYC’s Health and Hospital Corporation Ambulance Division and then its successor, the New York City Emergency Medical Services. Like other parts of the city, the citizens of Bensonhurst experienced response times for ambulances in excess of twenty minutes, if they showed at all. No community deserved such response times when emergency care experts were already saying there was a “golden hour” for providing emergency care to those in shock and/or seriously injured. The time had finally come for the community of Bensonhurst to develop a "Let's take care of ourselves” attitude. In the neighboring community of Bay Ridge, BRAVO, the Bay Ridge equivalent to the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service was celebrating its “First Birthday” when our Service, the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service, “breathed” its first breath. There really was no reason why our proud and extremely populated community could not do the same. A resident of Bensonhurst by the name of Eric Towse took on this cause. He placed a small advertisement in a local newspaper asking for volunteers to assist him in establishing a volunteer ambulance service in our community.The lack of efficient pre-hospital emergency care did not go unnoticed. This small advertisement brought an enthusiastic response. Although the idea of the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service was the dream of one person, it took many individuals, collectively known as the Founding Members, countless hours of effort to achieve this goal. In May of 1975, the battle was begun to help the dream of Eric Towse become a reality. This extremely dedicated cadre of volunteers began its year long battle by gathering petition signatures, obtaining political and public endorsements, as well as getting the word out to the community that the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service will soon be an active participant in providing pre-hospital emergency care to those in need. Eric Towse initiated training classes in Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Advanced First Aid. This eventually led to this first group of volunteers becoming Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). All this training was completed before we placed the first ambulance in service. This made it possible for us to answer the community's call for additional pre-hospital emergency care resources as soon as we were able to place our first ambulance in service, instead of having to wait for our members to be trained. While we were not yet operational, a temporary Headquarters was set up in the basement of the Narrows Civic Association Building at 7907 New Utrecht Avenue. The members of the Narrows Civic Association (NCA) began what would become a long-term relationship with the ambulance service by donating this space. It would be the first of many donations made by the NCA over the years. This would remain our Headquarters until we secured what would become our first operational Headquarters at 8304 17th Avenue. Our original volunteers began to conduct the training courses as they also answered the call to become instructors, for the ever growing number of volunteers made it impossible for one person to conduct classes for all the new members. The training classes were conducted at St. Finbar 's Annex, graciously made available to us by Fr. Paul C. McKlohr, the Pastor of Saint Finbar’s RC Church, as well as by his successor as Pastor, Fr. Anthony Failla. The hard work, the sweat, the tears, and maybe even a little blood paid off. This is because, on October 1, 1975, the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service began servicing the Community with free emergency care, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Our first ambulance was a 1971 Cadillac ambulance, given to us as a donation by the Narrows Civic Association. The Service was growing by leaps and bounds when the Ben Bay Kiwanis Club of the Kiwanis International came to our aid and donated a brand new 1976 Dodge ambulance. This was the first of five ambulances donated by this charitable community minded organization. The total cost of the ambulances donated surpassed $160,000. This does not include the consistent and unwavering financial support the Kiwanians provided to the Service over the years to cover other financial needs of the Service. This was and still is a debt we can never expect to repay in kind. The first five years of our existence witnessed tremendous growth, not only in terms of membership, but in the number of calls received as well. This forced the Service to look for a building that could accommodate this need. This search eventually proved fruitful as a building just a few blocks away was found. While it was difficult to leave the building we fondly called “home,” through perseverance, a professional eye, and the generosity of the community, a building located at 8161 New Utrecht Avenue was purchased and remodeled. The dream had become a reality. In 1985, the Service saw not only a need to provide an avenue for youth involvement in their community, but also a need to educate the youth of the community to the possibility of a future career. As a result, our Youth Squad was born. Young members of the community began to train in emergency medical care. The squad became an integral part of our Fund Raising efforts and excellent representatives at special events. The Squad still provides such services today. On November 26, 1992 (Thanksgiving) disaster struck. Our headquarters building, the center of our emergency efforts, suffered a roof collapse. Luckily, all personnel escaped without injury. Unfortunately, our ability to operate did not fair so well. We were out of service due to the loss of our communication and a command center. As it has been the case throughout our history, the cooperation amongst community members, local businesses, local hospitals, and most of all, our dedicated volunteers, led to our successful return to service just two days later in the early morning of November 28, 1992. While we were happy to be operational again, it was not home, for it was out of a trailer on the property of Maimonides Hospital. Unfortunately, this was not the end of our travels. We moved to 86th Street and 17th Avenue in February 1993, where we operated until December of that year. Due to a severe lack of space and the completion of the rebuilding of our Headquarters nowhere in sight, we moved once again to 77th Street and New Utrecht Avenue. However, all of this came to an end on Independence Day 1986, after approximately 42 months and eight days living the life of a Nomad, the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service returned triumphantly to its rebuilt Headquarters on New Utrecht Avenue. It had become home once again! Since 1996, we have seen many changes in the community we serve and at the Service itself. And now after 30 years of serving the community we have changed our location again due to financial burdens, we are now where we started out over thirty years ago, back "HOME" 8310 17th avenue at the corner of 84th street We have also seen a drop in the number of active volunteers, as well as our share of the Fund Raising pie. There have been times when we had to cease operations. We found ourselves struggling to operate twenty-four hours day even on the days we had available crews, let alone seven days a week. We have had to vacate, to some degree, a part of our Founder’s vision to provide our services at no cost. While we do not directly charge our patients for our service and still do not ask for donations at the time of our calls, we do ask our patients for insurance information. We now have to participate, as many other volunteer ambulances services do, in third party billing as a way to help fund the Service. However, even with this disappointing change, we can still be proud of the fact that, if a patient does not have insurance or the information is not available, we will not hesitate to provide all of the emergency pre-hospital care required by this patient, in the same manner and quality we have provided to this community for thirty years. The inability of those we serve to pay has never and will never stand in the way of our desire to help those in need. In the midst of this struggle, the new millennium, so far has also proven to be a challenge. In October of 2000, our building was vandalized and our emergency radio system was stolen. In early 2001, we lost one of our ambulances when it caught fire returning from an emergency call. On September 11, 2001, when our volunteer emergency medical personnel answered the call to respond to largest terrorist attack in our nation’s history, two of our ambulances were severely damaged at the World Trade Center. Over the years, many “institutions” such as ours have called it quits. We simply do not want to be one of them. Even though we have just a small group of active members, our highly trained volunteers, give of themselves as always in the form of thousands of non paid hours each year. We have been proudly serving the community of Bensonhurst and a small portion of Dyker Heights for the last thirty years. Now, with the City of New York finally in a position to provide the care the City lacked for most of the last thirty years, we proudly serve to augment the pre-hospital emergency care provided in the area by the Fire Department, Victory Memorial Hospital, Maimonides Medical Center and Lutheran Medical Center. Even though many question the need for our continued existence in light of this improved service, the sad and tragic events of September 11, 2001 tells us there is a great need for our existence. When the tragedy occurred, this area, the area we call our home, was left virtually unprotected by the call for all available ambulances to make their way to the World Trade Center area. Should another event occur that is even a fraction of the magnitude of what we saw on that day, the provider of pre-hospital emergency care and transportation for our area will not be one of the above agencies. It will be the Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service. What a tragedy it will be for our beloved part of Brooklyn, if the Service was no longer in existence to answer the call to serve! We believe charity comes from deep within ones heart and those who volunteer and give of themselves to help the less fortunate are true humanitarians. Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross once said, "You must never so much as think whether you like it or not, whether it is bearable or not; you must never think of anything except the need, and how to meet it." The Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service and its member's understand the need. That's why we give of ourselves to help others. As we celebrate our thirty years of service to the Community of Bensonhurst, we continue our struggle to remain operational in order to help those in need. In spite of this struggle, we remain vigilant to the phrase that Eric Towse, our Founder, and those hardy determined Founding Members so eloquently kept at the tip of their tongue, "Let us take care of ourselves." We came into existence almost thirty years ago to serve the community of Bensonhurst. It is our plan, as well as desire, to keep that duty alive and well!

About the organization

Bensonhurst Volunteer Ambulance Service

Joseph Bognar
Vice President
Michael Marquez
Executive Director