Love to the Rescue
By Kim Mullaney
She was a girl from Corning, New York who made her way to South Orange with a diving scholarship and acceptance into the five-year physician assistant program at Seton Hall University. He was a boy from Toms River who wanted to stay closer to home and followed his brother north to enroll at the same university. And they say that while they knew each other at school, it was their commitment to the South Orange Rescue Squad that drew them together.
Newlyweds Kurt and Laura Gibson can’t actually pinpoint the day they met, but they do agree that their first date was in the fall of 2006 with friends from the rescue squad, and took place at that famous local watering hole, Cryan’s. “Laura’s the quiet one and I’m just the opposite,” says Kurt with a grin. “It works.”
Kurt started volunteering with the rescue squad while still a student at Seton Hall. “Helping runs in my family,” he explains, such as his father’s commitment to firefighting. “I was looking for something to do and this opportunity came up in a class at school. I came down to see what it was all about, and I stayed,” looking to Laura with a smile. “Eight years later I’m captain, in charge of scheduling everyone’s shifts, and lots of other stuff.”
Laura’s path to the squad was a little different. She needed volunteer work in the medical field as part of her degree program, and selected the rescue squad as a place to earn hours. It was only later that she realized she was going to be a long-term volunteer. “I just really liked it. The people here are kind of like family,” she says with a nod toward Kurt. He concurs on the family part.
In fact, he says, it’s only because his friends on the squad knew he was planning on proposing to Laura that he got off of his shift that night. Kurt had promised to take Laura into New York City to see the Rockefeller Center tree and holiday lights – and he knew that it would be the perfect place to propose. “We were on a call, and everyone knew I needed to leave on time, so another squad team switched out at the scene and we made our train by about two minutes,” he said, chuckling as he recounted the close call. And in August of 2010 more than half of the squad made the trip to upstate New York to attend their wedding.
The couple easily recalled another instance when aiding members of the community took priority over personal celebrations. “I was still in my dress from graduation,” Laura recalls, “when we heard about a serious accident.” Continues Kurt, “We dropped off our car, picked up the ambulance, and went to work.” It’s their dedication and technical skills that make them valued members of the squad, but they shrug it off. “It’s just what we do,” Laura says, in her soft-spoken way.
It’s not uncommon for them to ride together on shifts, and New Year’s Eve has become something of a working holiday. For five out of the past six, they’ve worked the overnight shift together as revelers welcomed in the new year.
Still volunteers with the squad, Laura is employed as a physician’s assistant at Christ Hospital in Jersey City while Kurt fills in as a dispatcher with the South Orange Police Department, and is also a driver for Atlantic Ambulance Company. His work with the ambulance company isn’t all about driving either: As a dispatcher he’s closer to his dream job of becoming a police officer in South Orange.
Sherry Weintraub, a life-long squad member and former leader, says, “I’m like the Jewish mother – I’ve loved watching Kurt grow into a strong young man, and I’ve loved watching Laura grow into a beautiful and caring young woman.”
The South Orange Rescue Squad answers more than 1200 calls a year; the remaining hours are covered by Atlantic Ambulance. Laura managed to answer more than 120 calls in 2010, without ever being assigned a regular shift!
It’s also a sleep-in squad, with beds in the back of the building as well as rollaway beds, and some sofas as well. This means that volunteers with EMT skills can come from neighboring towns to work in South Orange. Volunteers work regular shifts, but there are fill-ins as well. Potential volunteers are encouraged to call 973-762-5647 to learn more about this valuable community service.
Funded entirely by donations, the squad is able to fill a real need in the community with the aid of their ever-present volunteers, including the Gibsons. They, along with 45 other members, demonstrate their caring, day in and day out. As Kurt says, the squad is “in good shape,” while adding that “we need to keep new members and donations coming in.”
It’s good to know strong individuals like Kurt and Laura are working together – and are ready to answer the next call for help at the drop of a hat. As Weintraub says “If you ever get sick, or need help, you can have no better young people than these two to answer.”
Kim Mullaney writes from her home in Maplewood, and loves a fine romance.