He came to township’s rescue for 30-plus years

East Windsor Resque Squad retiree calls for more volunteers

By: William Wichert
   EAST WINDSOR — Driving along township streets late at night in an ambulance, Norman Deitch has seen a few things.
   He’s delivered babies for perfect strangers and given CPR to unconscious residents, "bringing back somebody from the dead," as he calls it.
   Mr. Deitch has received emergency calls at birthday parties or while using the bathroom, and sometimes, he’s even had to help his own friends and neighbors make it through.
   "You have to put aside feelings for the individual and the emotional side," he said, "and do what you got to do."
   Still, as Mr. Deitch plans to end his 33-year career with the East Windsor Rescue Squad, he’s not looking for recognition. Instead, he has a simple plea for all those seeing his face in the papers: sign up.
   The squad is in dire need of more volunteers. The situation has gradually reached this point since Mr. Deitch joined the squad in August 1973. A Brooklyn native who moved his family to Twin Rivers a few months beforehand, Mr. Deitch was just looking for a way to become involved in his community. His wife didn’t want him to join the fire company because it was too dangerous, and ambulance service was his original choice anyway.
   At it turned out, Mr. Deitch’s involvement as the first Twin Rivers volunteer sparked interest in creating a rescue squad for that community.
   "I was a catalyst just by the sake of being the first," he said.
   Signs went up in stores around the area, and soon about 80 people signed up to participate. Mr. Deitch led the training program for the willing volunteers and on June 1, 1974, the District II squad responded to its first call.
   The members would still go about their own lives, but when the call came in during their shifts, they had to be at the squad headquarters within three minutes. As the squad became a growing part of life in Twin Rivers, Mr. Deitch’s wife created a day-care program at the headquarters to take care of the kids during ambulance calls. Lifelong friendships were built through the squad, and marriages grew out of these new relationships. Some members even found their calling through emergency services, later developing careers as nurses and doctors.
   The community’s rescue squad became another common link for people with similar pasts, said Mr. Deitch. Many of them came from New York City, running around like "ants" in a crowded town but, as Twin Rivers residents, suddenly represented a large part of a small town, he said.
   "We had more a sense of community because of that," said Mr. Deitch, a 63-year-old resident of Bolton Road. "We were pathfinders."
   As the years passed, this sense of community became lost on the newer residents and the squad’s volunteering numbers started to drop, said Mr. Deitch. The original members started moving out, and recruiting new people became difficult, since both parents were now heading to work in many households, he said.
   In its heyday, the squad had 20 people responding to calls in the daytime, and 40 people working at night. But now fewer than 15 residents are actively riding the ambulance, said Mr. Deitch. A paid staff was brought on board about 15 years ago to respond to calls during the day, while volunteers still remain the main source of emergency service between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. every weekday and the entire weekend.
   For Mr. Deitch, it’s just another Friday night. He’ll go home, watch some TV and maybe get some dinner, but after the call hits, he’ll be ready to go. Even when he moves this spring to Langhorne, Pa., and retires from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, he plans to find another rescue squad.
   There’s no chance he wouldn’t.
   "It is an incredibly rewarding function that volunteers provide," he said.