ASHBURNHAM, MA—There has always been a small local group that has looked out for the health and safety of Ashburnham's residents.
For the last 50 years, there has been an organization in the small town with a population of little more than 6,000 that tries to help fill the gap in funding for emergency services equipment so people get what they need to survive health issues and accidents in time.
The Gordon E. Erickson Memorial Fire/Rescue Foundation has donated more than $217,000 to help fund everything from a new fire rescue truck in 1972 to forestry equipment, tanker trucks, a Jaws of Life, turnout gear, technical equipment, imaging equipment and, most recently, a power-load cot to help assure safe transport from an injury site to the ambulance.
There is a long and established history for the foundation.
In the fall 1970, concerned residents approached then-Fire Chief Donald Clark to see if something could be done about providing emergency services to sick and injured members of the community. After studying the situation in town, it was decided that a multipurpose rescue vehicle would be appropriate for what was needed. Concerned that the cost of a vehicle would raise taxes, the committee decided to raise funds through donations.
At the time there were 1,529 homes. The vehicle would cost $15,000. Through rummage sales, square dances and bake sales, the committee raised $5,000. Volunteers visited every home in town to try and raise the balance.
In 1972, Joseph Olivari was on the Fire department and was one of five people who became emergency medical technicians in Ashburnham.
"It was important to all of us that we have an ambulance service," said Olivari.
Olivari explained that he was a junior in high school when the fire/rescue fund was started. He graduated in 1971, and at the time ambulance service was coming from Gardner or Fitchburg or wherever they could get it.
"It was a long delay," said Olivari. "You figure from here (the Public Safety Building) to Sunset Lake is a 10- to 15-minute ride. Now you add the time of their trip from Gardner or Fitchburg. Sometimes a call could be waiting for half an hour to an hour. That's not good. That time is critical."
Olivari said they designed the Ashburnham rescue truck and went out door to door and raised $18,000 in about three or four months. When it first started they gave basic first aid. The ability to provide care increased over time until currently where paramedic services are provided.
Gordon Erickson was a member of the Fire Department for what Olivari described was 'the longest time.'"
Ericson worked for Simon Saw and decided he wanted to go into nursing.
"He was very involved in teaching and getting this whole thing started," said Olivari. "When he passed away from cancer, we decided to name the fund and then the foundation after him."
For many years the fire/rescue fund received donations and the committee met three times a year to determine what was needed, and how they would go about fundraising.
At one point, funds received from EMT classes held at the Public Safety Building were split between the fund and the Ashburnham Firefighters Association.
When the firefighter's association disbanded, they gave the Gordon E. Erickson Memorial Fire/Rescue Fund seed money to start their own non-profit 501(C)(3). In April 2018, the committee voted to close the town-controlled trust. The fire/rescue fund became a nonprofit foundation as of April 1, 2019.
Written in their bylaws is their purpose; "to raise funds, donations, and gifts dedicated to assisting the Ashburnham Fire Department firefighters, rescue and EMS personnel perform their duties effectively, efficiently, and safely. The foundation will work to provide funding for training programs, grant opportunities, fire prevention and life safety programming and fire safety equipment needs."
"Now we can raise the money and give it to the town for whatever they request," said Olivari.
Over the years, the foundation has consulted with the fire chief to determine the needs of the department.
Sometimes the price tag is high for a piece of equipment, but there has been a partnership formed between the townspeople and the fire/rescue committee that allows for matching funds to alleviate some of the pressure when seeking a vote to spend money for the cost of a much-needed piece of equipment. There are times that money coupled with a grant has helped to enhance technology or even thermal imaging equipment for the department.
It is all about making sure the firefighters and EMTs of the Ashburnham Fire Department have what they to help in times of need.
"Fifty years later, we are still answering the call for help from our beloved Ashburnham Fire Department. In that time, we have provided the Fire Department with over $217,000 in equipment and funds so that they can provide better, safer, and more effective service to our community," wrote the foundation recently in their quest for donations.
The foundation committee, including Joseph Olivari, president; Robert Salo, vice president; B. Ellen Holmes, secretary; Gail Dumont, Dennis Driscol, Robert McGowan and Kelly Hansen, have been raising money for the needs of the department. Olivari said Fire Chief James Cleveland has begun a list of needs that include portable radios, masks for the SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), and new nozzles.
They say every contribution will make an impact, whether the donation is $5 or $500, every little bit helps.
"Sometimes it is the little things that don't make it into the budget that can make a difference on whether they can perform their duties," said Olivari.
For more information about donating to the fund, go to https://www.facebook.com/donate/2420663848222238/143754297034627/.
©2019 The Gardner News, Mass.
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