When members of Oswego’s Student Association Volunteer Ambulance Corps, SAVAC, first rolled out on a call on a “crisp, cold day in January 1972,” they started a tradition still going strong today. SAVAC is the first totally student-funded, student-built, student-manned and student-trained ambulance corps in the nation.
The distinctions are important, say founding members Ed Balaban ’73 and Charlie Flood ’72 because other colleges lay claims to the oldest corps dating to the same era, but only Oswego’s is totally student-centered.
The founders could see just how far their efforts have come last April, when they took part in a 40th anniversary celebration that included 150 SAVAC volunteers spanning four decades.
“We saw a need and we took action,” said Flood. They were responding to the closing of the campus infirmary in 1971.
“This corps has plenty of esprit,” said Balaban. “They appreciate what their origins are and how many people unselfishly gave so it could be what it is: special, unique and ultimately, first in the nation.”
Meeting with current officers and members from the ’70s, ’80s ,’90s and 2000s, he remarked, “If we do nothing else in this life, you guys are our legacy.”
The first group of SAVAC members were first aiders, receiving Red Cross training. An EMT class started in 1996, remembers former Chief Mike Carlotta ’97. Now about 20 students gain their EMT certification each semester, according to former Chief Jennifer Figueroa ’12.
Membership fluctuated through the years, with the initial cadre numbering nearly 100. In the 1980s numbers waned to about 25 and now 70 to 80 students volunteer.
Things have changed a lot since that first group rolled out in their 1972 Econoline van, bought for $500 with a grant from Student Association and converted to an ambulance by industrial arts majors Marc Saphir ’72 and Tom Venezio ’74. (Tom’s daughter Michele Venezio ’02 would rise to ranks of assistant chief, making them the first father-daughter duo in SAVAC history.)
Now the corps goes to calls in a 2012 Chevy Braun ambulance, which cost $150,000.
Probably the biggest legacy of SAVAC is how it fosters a lifelong commitment to rescue work. “It’s life-changing, not just life-saving,” said Flood.
Volunteers from every generation have gone on to work in local rescue squads and fire departments, many rising to the rank of chief. Some were present in the aftermath of 9/11 through volunteer departments or work with the Fire Department of New York. Melissa Vincent ’00, who perished while working in a Twin Towers office, was a former SAVAC volunteer.
SAVAC’s landmark anniversary was honored last spring when Rep. Bill Owens entered a proclamation honoring the corps into the Congressional Record.