In 1971, just 14 members and a single ambulance made up the newly formed Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
As the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary, the last volunteer ambulance service in Hudson County continues to serve and provide the community at no cost.
The HVAC has grown and adapted over the past 50 years, from answering 648 calls in its first year to more than 5,000 in 2020. The group now has four ambulances and a total of 10 vehicles – along with a dedicated operations department, a specialty service unit that provides equipment for major incidents, and a support service for fire victims or people in convalescence.
President of the Corps Thomas Malta has volunteered for the past 41 years and as President for the past 27 years. He says he has the same mission as his predecessors – never bill anyone who has received our services.
“It’s just an incredibly satisfying, warm feeling to be able to go to work every day and help your neighbor,” says Malta, who is also a former Hoboken firefighter. “Born and raised in Hoboken or even to the newcomers who have joined is an indescribable feeling to be able to tell people we are there to help them.”
Fellow HVAC member Joe Zelasko has been with the EMS for 42 years. While Zelasko noted that volunteer organizations like the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps may be hard to find these days, he is incredibly proud of the dedication and challenging work the volunteers have done over the years.
“Our goal has always been to provide excellent patient care, for free, and to feel good about the work we do at the end of each day. I think we’ve kept that standard and that’s why we’ve held it for 50 years,” said Zelasko, who is also from Hoboken. “I mean, we’re volunteers and that’s really a rarity these days. For us in Hoboken to continue volunteering and doing more than what we are asked to do is really great.”
The Corps works primarily with donations that pay for the base, which includes maintenance of equipment and supplies. The 2021 capital campaign is underway, with a goal of $250,000 for new ambulances, replacement stretchers and two autopulse machines.
The group that started with an original crew of just 14 members is now nearly 85. There is always a crew on hand and when someone needs emergency medical care, the HVAC is always on hand and ready to help.
“We do everything from a heart attack to major trauma to helping people who need reassurance where you are going and just talking to them and holding their hands,” Malta said. “There are good days and bad days at work. One day you might see life leaving this world and maybe the next day you might see life coming into it.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of what’s happening at work, but it’s extremely rewarding to know that you’re there every day to help someone in need.”
While the HVAC has served the Hoboken community for the past two generations, Malta hopes the organization will continue to lend a helping hand in the community for decades to come.
“In the future, we want to grow with the times,” he said. “Volunteering may not be what it once was, but we’re still in a position where we’d like to stay 24/7, 365 days a year. Our goal right now is to continue to provide the service people need throughout the Hoboken community.”