A new ambulance was delivered to Verona on Thursday afternoon, a truck approved for the Verona Rescue Squad by the Town Council last year. But instead of being delivered to the VRS headquarters on Church Street, as past ambulances have been, it went to the Town’s Department of Public Works garage, where it has been locked away.
The Verona Rescue Squad is an all-volunteer group. Its members receive no municipal salary or benefits and they rely on donations from the community to buy the supplies they need to respond to emergencies in town. But they have depended on the municipal budget for all or part of big-ticket items, like their ambulances and the insurance and gas to operate them.
Two weeks ago, Rescue Squad President Peggy Hoffman and another member visited the manufacturer of the new ambulance to inspect it. At that time, the manufacturer said he would call them about delivery. But on Thursday afternoon, April 2, Hoffman and an assistant captain saw the vehicle go by on Bloomfield Avenue. The assistant captain followed the ambulance, which stopped first at the Verona Police Department before being driven to the DPW garage on Ozone Avenue.
Hoffman, who had previously written an email to the Town Council, Township Attorney Michael Gannaio and Township Manager Joe Martin reporting a phone call from Martin over a personnel issue within the squad that she said left her feeling “threatened”, immediately sent an email of protest asking why the delivery was handled the way it was.
According to Mayor Bob Manley, who is also the Town Council’s liaison to the Rescue Squad, the delivery to DPW instead of the VRS was “not retaliation” for the personnel issue. “Past delivery practices do not apply” to this ambulance, he said, because it was paid for entirely by the town. He said that DPW workers need to transfer equipment from the old truck, which is parked outside its garage, and that the town’s IT department would be doing work on the truck’s communication system. (In the past, the squad has done this work at its building.) Manley said that the truck will be delivered to the VRS “in all due haste”, adding that “at no time was anybody put at risk. No resident was put in danger.”
Manley deflected the reported threat to Hoffman, but said she had inappropriately handled a leave of absence matter within the Squad. Hoffman, however, appears to have followed VRS bylaws when three members of the VRS went out on medical leaves earlier this year. The bylaws require a doctor’s note for a medical leave, and that note must be renewed. If it is not, a separate bylaw authorizes the squad to suspend the member, which means that the member cannot have access to the squad’s building or equipment until the leave issues are resolved. One of the members on medical leave has resigned from the VRS, and the squad is awaiting a renewal request or other decision from the second. But the third member did not submit a renewal in time and Hoffman, who was elected VRS president last November, sent a notice of suspension. Hoffman says Martin called her about that, which resulted in her report that she felt threatened.
Hoffman says the squad, which had hoped to begin stocking the new vehicle and training crews in its use this holiday weekend, will now likely have to wait a week to take possession. She remains frustrated by the way the delivery was handled. “You can’t give me a courtesy phone call and tell me it was coming?” she asks rhetorically of the Township Manager. “You have my phone number.”