SOUTH RIVER – The borough is suing the South River Rescue Squad Inc. and South River Emergency Medical Services Inc. for alleged negligence while on duty.
The South River Rescue Squad (SRRS) is a local corporation, which handles emergency medical services in South River from midnight to 6 a.m. and consists of volunteer members. Its principal place of business is at 6 Thomas St., according to a court document filed by the borough.
South River Emergency Medical Services (SREMS) is a local corporation, which handles emergency medical services in the borough from 6 a.m. to midnight and consists of paid employees, according to a court document filed by the borough.
On May 24, 2018, the borough filed a lawsuit against the SRRS and SREMS with the Middlesex County Chancery Division, according to attorney Fredrick Rubenstein, who is one of the lawyers representing South River in the lawsuit.
Rubenstein said Judge Arthur Bergman is presiding over the case, which is in the discovery phase.
During the six hours for which the rescue squad provides coverage, there have allegedly been numerous reports of troubling occurrences and clear negligence of duty by the volunteers and officers. These incidents were reported through various sources to South River Police Chief Mark Tinitigan, according to the lawsuit.
After receiving these reports, Tinitgan conducted an investigation which uncovered serious discrepancies in the provision of emergency medical services by the rescue squad. Specifically, it was found that from Jan. 1, 2017, to March 24, 2018, the rescue squad responded to only 117 of 303 calls for emergency medical services during its shift, according to the lawsuit.
The remainder of the calls required either a split crew, meaning paid employees and volunteers, coverage by the paid crew, or turnover of the call to a neighboring emergency medical service provider, according to the lawsuit.
In response to the borough’s allegations, the rescue squad and SREMS deny the allegations regarding inappropriate responses to calls. The rescue squad and SREMS also deny the allegations of having remaining calls requiring responses from a split crew, coverage by the paid crew or having to call a neighboring emergency medical service provider, according to a court document from attorney Herbert Ellis.
There have been reports of rescue squad members using squad vehicles for unauthorized and personal use. Specifically, it has been reported that SRRS Managing Member Patrick Geraldo has used rescue squad vehicles for personal use and for transporting other rescue squad members to their other jobs. There have also been reports that rescue squad members are consuming alcohol in the basement of the squad house after they leave their day jobs, according to the lawsuit.
The rescue squad and SREMS deny the allegations of its members using squad vehicles for unauthorized and personal uses, according to Ellis.
On March 25, the Borough Council passed a resolution authorizing an emergency contract with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital to provide emergency medical services. SREMS failed to adequately and completely provide emergency services throughout the borough, according to the council.
On July 2, 2018, and Oct. 5, 2018, Mayor John Krenzel issued executive orders which declared an emergency existed which substantially affects the health, safety and welfare of the public.
The mayor ordered that South River direct calls for emergency services from its residents to Robert Wood Johnson and that no further calls for emergency medical services were to be dispatched to SREMS, and that SREMS was precluded from using any ambulance, vehicles and/or equipment owned by the borough, according to the resolution.
Despite the council’s passage of the resolution, SREMS Executive Director Michael Ayers said the rescue squad is a nonprofit organization and is still an active and functional rescue squad.
Ayers said SRRS members are volunteer New Jersey state certified emergency medical technicians and certain members who are also trained in certain types of specialized rescues certifications such as vehicle extrication, marine and water rescues.
The SREMS owns and operates an assortment of specialized rescue vehicles, boats and trailers, and is able to currently operate the squad owned vehicles, boats and rehab medical trailer.
“These non-patient transport vehicles are vital to providing this type of specialized rescue services,” Ayers said. “The rescue squad will continue to conduct vehicle extrication training, boat crew training, attend civic events and provide specialized rescue services when called upon, including but not limited to marine operations on various waterways, marine safety patrols, and medical rehabilitation operations with specialized medical trailer.”
Ayers said the rescue squad does not charge a fee to any individual or agency for any of the specialized rescue services which SRRS provides to South River residents and surrounding communities. SRRS relies on private donations from the community to support the rescue squad owned non-transport type rescue vehicles and equipment.
The borough has argued to the court that its executive orders, which effectively shut down SREMS and SRRS, were based on safety concerns; however, the certification of Ayers details how response time has dramatically been impaired since the mayor’s and borough’s actions, according to Ellis.
Ayers demonstrates how the hiring of a new consulting firm was done before the complaint and not in response to a safety issue, according to the court document.
By entering into an agreement with Robert Wood Johnson to provide ambulance service, the mayor is violating bidding laws and statutory requirements since there were no emergency and career crews from SREMS staffing ambulances when SRRS volunteers were not available, according to the court document.
South River can award an emergency contract without formal bidding when an emergency exists that affects the health, safety and welfare of the public, according to the council.
The borough also alleged that the rescue squad improperly conducted its 2018 election by violating its bylaws regarding voting eligibility requirements and the introduction of additional ballots, according to the lawsuit.
Unlike SRRS and SREMS, Robert Wood Johnson does not have individuals trained or equipped to deal with water rescue or flooding emergencies which is a clear risk in South River given the waterways that exist in this borough, according to the court document.
The borough is seeking to have a shared services agreement between South River and the SRRS and the SREMS be declared null and void; that members from the SRRS and the SREMS Board of Directors be removed from their positions; that the lease agreement between the borough and the SRRS be declared null and void, which allows the rescue squad and SREMS to occupy the building at 6 Thomas St.; and that a constructive trust be created to freeze all funds overseen by the rescue squad and SREMS.
Although the lawsuit is ongoing, Ayers said, “SRRS does have an annual fund drive through the U.S. Postal Service, the fund drive mailing includes a letter with a return envelope for donors to send in their donation to the squad. The annual SRRS fund drive starts in May each year and runs for several months, with one additional reminder mailing at the end of the summer or in the early fall.”