Freehold First Aid Squad has an illustrious history, that has been written and re-written many times. After the passing of a long-time member, an article from the Examiner appeared and tells a great version of this history. Find the original article here, by Dick Metzger, from February 21st, 2002.
Below you will find the article:
Community spirit was alive and well when a group of employees from the A&M Karagheusian rug
mill on Jackson Street became operational as the Freehold area’s first first aid squad on Labor
Day in 1941. The squad was formed several months before the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor
launched America into World War II. Although the rug mill is long gone and has been turned into
an apartment building, that fledgling group evolved into what is today the Freehold First Aid and
Emergency Squad, which is still an all-volunteer group that depends on donations solicited
through annual fund-raisers to finance its operations. One of the charter members who organized
the squad was Robert Searby, 87, a resident of Parker Street, where he has lived for 60 years.
Searby, who was a weaver at the rug mill, is believed to be the last surviving founding member
of the first aid squad. Actually, Searby was a member of a small group of rug mill employees
formed by the company in 1939 to handle emergencies involving plant employees. Searby
recalled that two members from each of the mill’s departments were trained in the prevention
of accidents and in emergency care. His brother Fred Searby, who died in 1996, was also an
early member of the squad. Back in the 1940s, the rug mill was the largest employer in the
Freehold area, employing about 2,000 people. Since so many of the employees lived in the
Freehold area, many of the mill’s first-aiders decided to use their skills to assist residents in the
area in which they lived. Searby was born and raised in the Clarksburg section of nearby Millstone
Township, but by 1940 he and his wife, June, had moved to Freehold to be close to his work. At the
time, existing ambulance services, including the Van Sant Funeral Home on South Street and the
Thomas Potter and Son Ambulance Service on Monmouth Avenue, served local residents. "These ambulance services could only transport people to hospitals in Neptune and Long Branch," Searby recalled in a conversation this week. "They were not trained to give treatment to people. We had been trained to treat people as well as to transport them."
The Freehold squad began its service in 1941 with a 1933 Cadillac LaSalle ambulance. The squad’s first call in September 1941 was a man having a heart attack by the Quaker Tavern Inn, Route 33 and Yellow Brook Road, in Howell. Several months later the Van Sant Funeral Home donated its 1928 ambulance to the squad. One year later squad members were wagering as to which one of them would answer the group’s 200th call. Little did they know that the call would be for one of their own charter members.
"We were having a donkey baseball game on Labor Day when Pat Ciccerone was thrown by one of the donkeys and broke a vertebra," Searby said. "We had to transport him to the hospital as our 200th call. He fully recovered." In addition to receiving an ambulance from the Van Sant Funeral Home, Arthur Van Sant joined the squad and served as its captain in 1944. "The Van Sants were very helpful to the squad in the beginning," Searby said. "In the beginning, people who needed first aid service would call the funeral home. Mrs. Van Sant would then call each of the squad members."
Later, Searby recalled, a siren was placed on top of the rug mill to alert squad members that their services were required. "They would blow the siren three times to alert squad members." Searby said. "This method was used for years. By the 1950s our ambulances were equipped with two-way radios. Each member of the squad had to take tests on how to use them."
A small building at the rear of the rug mill property served as headquarters for the first aid squad. Then, as now, the squad members annually conducted fund drives to keep the ambulances on the road. "I recall that we went door to door during those early days to collect money," Searby said. "Today, they send out letters asking for donations. Also, the governing bodies of Freehold Borough and Freehold Township give the squad money each year." The first fund drive was conducted early in 1941 before the squad became operational on Labor Day. The money that was raised enabled the squad to purchase its first ambulance, the 8-year-old Cadillac LaSalle for $450. Searby would climb through the squad’s ranks, serving as captain in 1946.
By 1947 the squad members realized that their headquarters on the rug mill property was no longer large enough to serve the group’s needs, Searby said. By then, squad members had raised enough money to purchase a small house on Spring Street and convert it into the squad’s new headquarters. Today, after several additions and many improvements, the house and property still serves as borough headquarters for the Freehold First Aid and Emergency Squad.
The squad now has a substation, located near the Freehold Township municipal building, off Stillwells Corner Road. Searby recalled that he began working at the rug mill in 1935 when he was 20. "In the beginning I commuted from Clarksburg, but I was married and my wife didn’t like to be alone when I was at work in the borough so we decided to move into town," Searby said. "I’ve lived in the borough more than 60 years." Searby worked at the rug mill until 1957 when, he said, it had become obvious that the mill’s owners planned to move the operation out of Freehold. The Karagheusian rug mill eventually moved south. "After that I worked five years at the Hightstown Rug Mill," he said. "I then discovered that I could save the money I spent commuting by getting a job working for the Nestle Co. which was practically in my back yard. I worked there for another 22 years."
One of his fondest memories, Searby said, was taking part in what is believed to have been the Freehold first aid squad’s longest service call.
"As a favor to another first aid squad, we transported a woman to Milo, Maine, in 1946 when I was captain," Searby said. "I believe she had a terminal illness and wanted to return to her hometown. Lester Innes and I made the trip. We took a nurse with us in the ambulance to care for the woman. We started early on a Saturday morning and returned to Freehold on Monday in time to work the second shift beginning in the afternoon at the rug mill. I think the round trip was more than 1,000 miles. The squad picked up the expenses for the trip."
Searby was a pioneer member of a first aid squad that has passed 60 years and has built a legacy of public service that is hard to beat.
Robert Searby, 87, Freehold, helped form the Freehold First Aid and Emergency Squad while he was working at the A&M Karagheusian rug mill.