It was the flashing lights and the shrill sound of the siren as the ambulance raced down the street that first caught Sneah Sukhardia’s attention.
“It’s like a lot of kids. They see a lot of flashing lights and they think it’s really cool. I saw the Hightstown First Aid Squad ambulance go by one day and I thought, ‘How old do you have to be to join? Maybe I could do that,'” said Sukhadia, who lives in East Windsor Township.
The answer is simple – 15 years old to become a cadet, and 18 years old to become a full-fledged member of the all-volunteer Hightstown First Aid Squad. It also requires taking a course to become a certified emergency medical technician, or EMT.
And that is what the Hightstown First Aid Squad is seeking now – more volunteers to bolster its ranks, so neighbors can help neighbors. It is not a requirement to live in Hightstown Borough to join the Hightstown First Aid Squad, however.
But back to Sukhadia and his path to becoming a volunteer EMT with the Hightstown First Aid Squad, where he holds the rank of first lieutenant.
While most 15-year-old boys were home playing video games or watching sports, Sukhadia was spending time at the Hightstown First Aid Squad building on Bank Street. As a cadet member, he learned what it takes to become an EMT.
Once Sukhadia was old enough, he took the four-month-long EMT training course, which was paid for by the Hightstown First Aid Squad. Classes meet twice a week, plus a few Saturdays so the students can practice what they learned in class.
Sukhadia completed the course and has been riding on the ambulance. The squad’s calls range from helping someone who is sick, to responding to crashes on a portion of the New Jersey Turnpike.
“It has really been an eye-opener,” the 19-year-old said. “Once I joined, I learned that it is more than flashing lights. It’s helping someone who is not feeling well at 3 a.m. You help the person get out of bed and you take them to the hospital.”
“It’s neighbors helping neighbors. It is very rewarding, knowing that I am here and actually able to make an impact on someone’s life,” Sukhadia said.
“When I was 15 years old, I did not really know what an EMT does. I would never imagine, at that age, doing what I am doing now,” he said.
While helping others who are in pain or feeling sick is integral to being an EMT, there are also the intangibles, Sukhadia said. He has learned to become more compassionate and also analytical, as he and the EMT’s on his crew analyze the situation and what is needed.
“Being an EMT has helped me to become more decisive. It has changed the way I am with my family. They come to me and ask for advice. If we are driving in the car and we see there is an accident, I stop to see if I can help,” he said.
Sukhadia’s sentiments are shared by Hightstown First Aid Squad members Mark Madonia and Sam Engel.
“We are there for the patient,” Madonia said. “We comfort them. Sometimes when we go to a call, the person is in desperate need for help.”
“We see people when they are at the worst time in their life. They know that as soon as we walk in the door, we will take care of the problem. We show up in a calming fashion and it calms them,” said Madonia, who is a former captain and president of the squad.
The Hightstown Borough resident said he always wanted to become an EMT. The 58-year-old has worked on construction sites, and workers sometimes are injured. He is the first to admit that his training as an EMT has been helpful many times.
Engel is a self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie.” He grew up in Plainsboro Township, and volunteered with the now defunt Twin W First Aid and Rescue Squad in West Windsor Township.
“I graduated from high school in 2014, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I would go to college and become a doctor or a lawyer,” said Engel, who is 22 years old and the squad’s captain.
“I thought it would be good to volunteer as an EMT, so I volunteered with Twin W First Aid and Rescue Squad. I instantly fell in love with it,” the Robbinsville Township resident said. He joined the Hightstown First Aid Squad after the West Windsor first aid squad disbanded.
Asked why he became an EMT, Engel responded with a question of his own.
“Why do firefighters go rushing into a burning building? To help people. Once I started volunteering as an EMT, I realized how rewarding it is. You are helping people,” said Engel, who is applying to medical school.
“Being an EMT and going out on calls prepares you for everything. You learn to keep calm and you learn about problem-solving. We get the privilege of helping a person, and not everyone gets to do that. I feel lucky to be able to do it,” Engel said.
For more information about joining the Hightstown First Aid Squad, visit www.hightstownfirstaid.org or call 609-426-1512. The squad also has a Facebook page.