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A night to remember: KAA celebrates 50th anniversary

Submitted by Clark Judge.

Its 50th anniversary.

The Killingworth Ambulance Association began in February, 1971, when a group of concerned citizens met at the local elementary school to form an emergency response team of volunteers. Fifty years later, at least three of those persons – including the KAA’s first president, Charlie Smith – took part in three hours of dinner, awards and speeches that commemorated the historic occasion at Deer Lake.

There were proclamations from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. First Selectwoman Cathy Iino was there. So was a trove of past and present EMTs and board members, some dressed in KAA uniforms. There was live music, a pizza truck (Grand Apizza in Madison), beverage truck (The Bar Cart CT, LLC), hors d’oeuvres, desserts (the Sweet Baker) and a 15-minute video documenting the history of the KAA, as told by those who were there.

What’s more, the celebration was staged inside Deer Lake’s post-and-beam dining hall, a 5,000-square foot structure that more than accommodated the 70-80 persons who attended. Ironically, it was Deer Lake that once was the site of combined picnics for the KAA and Killingworth Volunteer Fire Company nearly three decades ago.

“Everything was top-notch,” Smith said of Sunday’s event. “It recognized those people who should be recognized for all of their years of service — including the numbers of runs they make over the course of a year, as well as the other nameless duties they do that no one is aware of. “

Don McDougall, with extended family.

Front and center was Don McDougall, who first volunteered for the KAA in 1971 and who, at the age of 87, is still an active board member. Joined by 12 members of his extended family, he was the recipient of state proclamations read by Iino, gifts from the KAA, a congratulatory cake (vanilla, McDougall’s favorite, with butter cream frosting) and a standing ovation from all those in attendance.

“Fifty years,” said the KAA’s Chief of Service Mike Haaga, “and to be still active at his age? Amazing. It’s great he has such a dedication to the town that he does.”

After he was honored, McDougall was approached by Smith.

“Fifty years,” Smith said. “That’s remarkable.”

McDougall bowed his head, then started to laugh.

“It was easy,” he said. “But the next 50 might be hard.”

(L-R) Lisa Anderson, Dan O’Sullivan, James Fretz.

Among others recognized Sunday were EMTs James Fretz, Dan O’Sullivan and Lisa Anderson, the top three responders from October, 2020-September, 2021. Fretz answered the most calls, with over 130 of the 459 responses, followed by O’Sullivan and Anderson, in that order.

That, too, was exceptional: First of all, because Anderson answered the most calls the past two years, including an astounding 207 in 2019-20; and, second, because Fretz is a first-year EMT, certified in August, 2020.

“How unusual is that?” Haaga said of Fretz. “I’ve had others in their first years finish in the top three. But first? I can’t remember it happening before.”

Fretz and wife Mary Robbenhaar-Fretz, who became an EMT in 2019, are members of the KAA’s board of directors and often respond to emergencies together, The two are on call from Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. but sometimes respond when others are unavailable.

In short, they’re everything the KAA was meant to be when it was formed. Considering the persons involved, that’s no surprise: Mary’s mother and father were EMTs, as well as members of the board of directors, who answered calls as a team one to two nights a week.

 

“James is amazingly dedicated,” said O’Sullivan, the KAA’s president. “In addition to covering two days a week with Mary, he often is filling in to make a complete crew on all other days of the week and all hours of the day. He is critical to our great response percentage, especially in light of the increasing load of calls we’re responding to.”

According to O’Sullivan, responses jumped from 277 in 2017-18 to 459 in 2020-21, an increase of 66 percent in just three years. Fifty years ago, there were fewer than 50.

“This,” said Smith, surveying Sunday night’s crowd, “is a good example of people in the community pulling for each other to make something last because it’s worthwhile. And that’s something you think about when you’re doing the planning.

“But you don’t think about it 50 years from now. You just think about the next day. First, it’s buying that Cadillac (to become the first ambulance). And the next day it’s making sure all our drivers are EMS certified. And the day after that it’s putting up the building. And the next step after that is to make sure professionalism is carried through generation after generation. It’s a lot like raising child.”

But this child is so grown up that, 50 years later, Killingworth literally can’t live without it.

“There were lulls in staffing,” Smiths said in the video that ended the evening, “and there were lulls in funding at certain points. But we recovered. And look where we are now, baby.”

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