History

It all began one day when a woman was struck by a car on Atlantic Avenue…

One cold December afternoon in 1951, a local woman was struck by a car near the corner of 24th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Attorney J. Peter Holland III found himself at the scene and called for an ambulance. Unfortunately, the Fire Department’s ambulance was disabled and couldn’t help. With nowhere to turn, Holland called the nearby Fort Story Army installation, but the dispensary was hesitant to send help since the person injured was not in the military. Holland persisted, and nearly an hour after his initial call, an ambulance from Fort Story responded to take the woman to Virginia Beach General Hospital, just three blocks away.

Mr. Holland, thoroughly unsatisfied, rounded up some friends and discussed the urgent need for an active volunteer ambulance service in Virginia Beach. On May 1, 1952, the Princess Anne-Virginia Beach Rescue Squad, Inc. began operations with twenty-two charter members and one associate.

It was the beginning of the long, proud history of the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad. Read the rest of our history, through the decades below.

The members of the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad have worn distinctive white uniforms since 1952.

VBVRS in the 1950s

In the early 1950s, “the village,” as most residents called Virginia Beach, was a sleepy little resort stretching from Rudee Inlet to 49th Street. It had a population of just 10,000 and just about everyone knew everyone else.

In the village, on a cold December afternoon in 1951, attorney J. Peter Holland III found himself at the scene of an accident. A local woman had been struck by a car near the corner of 24th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Holland called for an ambulance. But when he called, the Fire Department said its ambulance was disabled and unable to help. With nowhere to turn, Holland called the Fort Story Army installation. But the dispensary was hesitant to send assistance because the person injured was not in the military. Holland persisted, and nearly an hour after his initial call, an ambulance from Fort Story responded to take the woman to Virginia Beach General Hospital, just three blocks away.

Peter Holland, thoroughly unsatisfied, rounded up some friends and discussed the urgent need for an active volunteer ambulance service in Virginia Beach. They paid a visit to the rescue squad in Fredericksburg, which had been operating successfully for several years. After days of meetings and much discussion, the group returned home with a vision and a plan — the nucleus for the proposed Princess Anne-Virginia Beach Rescue Squad.

Now that plans for a rescue squad were formulated, much foundation work had to be done. Manpower, money, equipment, training, and a home for the new squad had to be obtained.

The group sought and received $500 from the Virginia Beach City Council and the Princess Anne County Board of Supervisors. John Fitzgerald donated a laundry truck, which would be used as a salvage vehicle, and a small boat for water rescues was acquired. The disabled Cadillac ambulance, which started Holland and friends on this mission, was sold to the fledgling squad for $1, as were a trio of metal buildings on 20th Street and Pacific Avenue, belonging to Standard Oil Company. Two of the buildings were used as garages, while the third became a 10X18 foot “squad house,” complete with two home-built bunks, no insulation, an overhead gas heater suspended from the ceiling, and beaverboard walls. First, prospective members took the standard first aid course offered by the American Red Cross, then uniforms and equipment were purchased, and, finally on May 1, 1952 the Princess Anne-Virginia Beach Rescue Squad, Inc. began operations with twenty-two charter members and one associate.

The squad’s first call on May 1st was for a drowning. A sailor either fell or jumped from the boardwalk. He was already dead when the rescue squad arrived — an inauspicious beginning for a rescue squad, which would later be known for its lifesaving efforts.

VBVRS in the 1960s

The original three metal buildings were home to the squad for the next five years. In February 1957, after much discussion and planning, five bids had been received and a contract was awarded for the construction of a new headquarters. By late fall, the building was completed and the squad had a new home at 408 20th Street. That year, the squad answered 778 calls. During the day squad members answered calls by themselves and after took the ambulance home or to their workplace.

A 1960 article in the Virginia Beach Sun-News listed the professions represented in the rescue squad membership: “Service-station operator, engineer, milkman, banker, chemist, policeman, hotel keeper, restaurateur, postman, city official…” and the list went on. That year the squad answered 1,093 calls, its membership consisted of 40 men, and its budget was $20,000.

With the incorporation of the City of Virginia Beach and Princess Anne County in 1963, and the increasing growth of the area, the demand for emergency medical services necessitated the formation of other rescue squads. It was proposed that each new rescue squad operate within fire department districts and in conjunction with each respective fire station. But the membership of the Virginia Beach-Princess Anne Rescue Squad elected to remain independent and free of government control in order to hold to its original charter — as a totally independent organization operated by volunteers on a 24-hour basis, with no charge for services. In 1963, it also voted to change the name of the squad to Virginia Beach Rescue Squad, Inc. By 1969, the squad was averaging 185 calls per month, with a record-breaking 322 calls during the month of August.

VBVRS in the 1970s

Sweeping changes marked the 1970s. In 1972, the squad was in need of daytime volunteers. For the first time, seven women — some nurses, a schoolteacher, and a few housewives were recruited. Although everyone was a bit apprehensive, it was obvious from the beginning that these women were equal members of the squad – they shared in the exhilaration, the joy and the sadness that comes when working in the line of duty.

In July of 1972, the Emergency Coronary Care Program for treatment of heart, respiratory and trauma victims (the first program of its kind) was established in Virginia Beach with the help of James P. Charlton MD and W. Andrew Dickinson, Jr. MD. Seven members of the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad were in the first graduating class and that very day they had a successful conversion of a patient in cardiac arrest, the first ever performed by a volunteer squad — a fact that brought national media attention to the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad.

In 1974 the federal and state governments became more involved in setting minimum standards for vehicles, and the Cadillacs, which were the squad’s trademark vehicles, could not meet the government’s minimum height requirements. So, in 1975, the squad purchased its first van-type ambulance.

In an effort to shorten the response time to the rapidly growing Alanton-Great Neck area in the mid 1970s, the squad inaugurated service from a substation at fire station 8, just a block from Virginia Beach General Hospital. By the end of the ’70s, the rescue squad was answering 5,500 calls a year and the average response time was 4.6 minutes, a dramatic decrease over the hour it took for the ambulance to pick up the woman Peter Holland helped in 1951.

VBVRS in the 1980s

By the ’80s, the population of Virginia Beach had grown to more than 260,000. The oceanfront was busier than ever, and many local residents complained about a loss of community spirit. The rescue squad was answering more than 7,000 calls a year, and its 48 active members were having difficulty keeping up with the demand for service. For the first time, the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad (and the City’s 10 other squads) faced a serious crisis — the demand for service was rising rapidly, just as squad membership was falling dramatically.

The fire service had been all-volunteer, too. It had faced the same problems that beset the rescue squads. After fire volunteers were unable to muster personnel to fight a daytime fire at a Kempsville grocery and a Witchduck department store, the city hired firemen to provide firefighting services. The Virginia Beach Rescue Squad was determined to avoid the same fate.

In March of 1988, the squad launched the first-ever volunteer recruitment campaign. Full-page ads were taken in The Beacon and five donated billboards urged prospective members to join — to experience the excitement and compassion to be found in volunteer rescue work. The campaign was a huge success. From March until the end of the year, the squads received 372 inquiries — nearly double the number from the previous year. Citywide, squad membership increased from 410 in 1987 to 650 in May of 1989. In short, the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad’s recruitment initiative saved Virginia Beach’s faltering volunteer system from extinction.

VBVRS in the 1990s

During the late ‘80s, rescue squad members and advisors determined that if the squad was to remain strong and independent, it needed to develop a long-range, strategic plan for the future. As a result, the Task Force 2000 committee was formed to develop a plan that would guide the rescue squad into the next century. The committee quickly realized that the squad’s most urgent need was for a new, larger, and better-equipped headquarters.

When it was built in 1957, the squad’s home at 408 20th Street was designed to accommodate three vehicles and 30 men who answered 400 calls a year. Clearly, by the ‘80s, the squad had outgrown its home. With six vehicles and nearly 75 men and women, the squad answered more than 7,000 calls per year. After more than 38 years, the old squad house, with its leaking roof and faulty furnace, had deteriorated.

The Squad Captain appointed a New Building Committee, which held its first meeting on November 18, 1992. A capital campaign goal of $2 million was established and an aggressive fund-raising effort was soon underway. The City provided 1.4 acres of land on 17th Street, $500,000 for site work, and a $1.25 million, 10 year, interest-free construction loan. Plans were drawn, a contractor was chosen, and ground was broken on January 11, 1995. The nine vehicles and nearly 100 male and female volunteers had a home — in a state-of-the-art facility.

As the squad’s home had grown, so did the demands on its membership, working to meet the needs of a bustling resort city, from dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Bonnie in 1998 to hosting a delegation of Japanese leaders interested in our successful volunteer network in 2000.

VBVRS in the 2000s

Virginia Beach Rescue Squad—Rescue 14—also adapted to changes in emergency medicine, including CPR and drug treatment changes. Cardiac Techs became Intermediates and Shock Trauma medics became Enhanced. Equipment also changed, and some of the most appreciated have been the electronic stretchers, allowing our volunteers to more easily handle patients and protect backs. It’s all been part of our effort to stay healthy and keep our skills sharp. In 2006, a dedicated, skillful EMT team at Rescue 14 won the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squad’s award for Most Outstanding Basic Life Support, then entered the International Rescue and Emergency Care Association’s competition, with teams competing from all over the world. Only one team was all-volunteer: Rescue 14. And only one team beat everyone: Rescue 14.

Recruitment and retention of volunteers continued to be an ongoing effort. On September 11, 2001, as our country reeled from terrorist attacks, people in our community stepped up, moved to do something that would make a difference. The result? It was our biggest recruitment year to date, resulting in more than 50 new EMTs. Our population continued to grow, though, and in 2004, the City hired 24 paid paramedics and four supervisors to enhance the volunteer system and to ensure that at least eight ambulances were manned and ready to respond at all times. In 2007, the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation, born out of Rescue 14, expanded its mission to include support for the entire rescue system and invested a half million dollars into a “Lives Need Saving” recruitment campaign that would benefit all squads. Through print ads, TV spots, a dedicated website and phone number, tremendous awareness was raised and more than 300 new volunteers joined the system, exceeding the goal of 200. And in early 2008, the new Virginia Beach Association of Rescue Squad Volunteers began working to promote opportunities, camaraderie, efficiencies, leadership development, recruitment and retention of volunteers in the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Services.

Recruitment and retention of volunteers continued to be an ongoing effort. On September 11, 2001, as our country reeled from terrorist attacks, people in our community stepped up, moved to do something that would make a difference. The result? It was our biggest recruitment year to date, resulting in more than 50 new EMTs. Our population continued to grow, though, and in 2004, the City hired 24 paid paramedics and four supervisors to enhance the volunteer system and to ensure that at least eight ambulances were manned and ready to respond at all times. In 2007, the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation, born out of Rescue 14, expanded its mission to include support for the entire rescue system and invested a half million dollars into a “Lives Need Saving” recruitment campaign that would benefit all squads. Through print ads, TV spots, a dedicated website and phone number, tremendous awareness was raised and more than 300 new volunteers joined the system, exceeding the goal of 200. And in early 2008, the new Virginia Beach Association of Rescue Squad Volunteers began working to promote opportunities, camaraderie, efficiencies, leadership development, recruitment and retention of volunteers in the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Services.

The City continued to grow, with much activity in the Great Neck/Alanton/First Colonial corridor; since the mid ‘70s, our squad—in satellite station, Rescue 8—has had crews running duties out of space shared in the City’s fire station to shorten response times in these rapidly growing neighborhoods. It worked well until the space could no longer accommodate the number of firefighters and rescue volunteers needed to serve that area. A new rescue station was needed.

The Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation, with land donated by the City, contributed a significant portion of the approximately $4.5 million building, and turned to the community to raise the remainder. The new Rescue 8, a 15,000-square-foot station that included the largest community hall in the area, a police sub-station, and office/bunk room for the EMS Brigade Chief, was proudly accomplished, and the responsibility of manning two stations 24/7 was met.

VBVRS Today in the 2010s

The response to the Foundation’s recruitment campaigns continued to be strong, and the large numbers of applicants needed to be trained. With the approval of the Virginia Beach Rescue Council—a group of representatives from all stations in the EMS system—the City took over the training and release process of new EMTs.

Meanwhile, Virginia Beach’s population grew to nearly a half million, with almost 3 million tourists visiting each year. And still, the Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad continues to serve the City’s needs 24/7. With 180 operational members and more than 20 administrative members, we answered over 12,500 calls for service in 2011, about one-third of the City’s total rescue calls. Plans are in place to add two more ambulances to our fleet, as we stand ready, night and day, fair weather and foul, to answer the next cry for help.

Support The Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Every dollar counts.

You can be the difference that allows us to have the life-saving equipment and supplies we need to answer every cry for help.

Our Fund Drive continues!

Equipment. Medical supplies. Ambulances. Member needs. Community education. Help us answer the call with the things we need by supporting your Virginia Beach Volunteer Rescue Squad. As partners for life—together—we can keep our community safe.  

Learn CPR. Absolutely free.

Did you know that 70% of all sudden cardiac arrests take place in the home? Now you know. Come learn what to do.

Join us. We need you.

Help us help others. And see what a difference it makes in your own life. Start the process by filling out the online application.

 

You like us. You really like us.

Share how a VBVRS crew rescued you! Tell us your story and we’ll tell you ours, keeping you up to date with all that our crews are doing.

+ DONATE  •  FREE CPR  •  RIDE WITH US  •  JOIN US