Sun City Center Emergency Squad helps thousands while saving County millions of dollars

In the heart of Sun City Center on Ray Watson Boulevard resides a humble building bursting with great purpose. Home to the Sun City Center Emergency Squad, this 24/7 facility responds to over 5,500 emergency calls from Sun City residents a year. And it runs on the power of volunteers.

Established 60 years ago, the Sun City Center Emergency Squad has won numerous awards, including the National EMS Volunteer Organization of the Year in 2020. The group is 100% volunteer-based and free of charge to all residents. It is the only organization of its kind in Florida, and it is among only a handful of volunteer emergency organizations that exist nationally.

In fact, the 5,500 calls answered by the emergency squad are estimated to save Hillsborough County taxpayers close to $4.5 million annually.

At the helm

Inspired by his wife, Squad Chief Mike Bardell has been a squad member for over eight years and has served as chief for most of that time. According to Bardell, the emergency squad is home to over 350 active volunteers - 108 of them being trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) or Emergency Medical Responders (EMRs).

Much like the camaraderie of Hillsborough County Fire Rescue - Station 28 is just down the road - this team is a family. With many volunteers residing in the community in which they serve, they are truly living the squad motto "Neighbors Helping Neighbors."

Squad Chief Mike Bardell
Squad Chief Mike Bardell

How it works

The emergency squad responds to over 5,500 calls a year with dedicated and trained volunteers, a fleet of four ambulances, and two wheelchair vans. Eighty percent of incoming calls come through the Sun City Center Emergency Squad's main line, and 20% of calls originate from 9-1-1. All calls are responded to on a first-come, first-served basis.

Three-person teams work one 12-hour shift every eight days. Teams are comprised of a driver, an EMT, and an EMR, all of whom are fully trained in CPR. Training is ongoing and covers a variety of emergency response topics. And every six weeks, first responders go through a CPR refresher course to keep their skills sharp.

The consistent training pays off. While over 40% of calls relate to falls, volunteers respond to a variety of emergencies and transport patients to area hospitals. And with more adult children returning to live with their parents, the diversity of calls is expanding. In addition to emergency service response, some residents call on the squad regularly for transport to doctor's visits, dialysis appointments, and the like.

Bardell likens the emergency squad to a Fortune 500 company, housing all departments except for payroll and billing. The squad has become good at doing a lot with little, works to build strong relationships with vendors, and gets the best possible prices on all necessary medical supplies. The over $350,000 budget is covered yearly by a direct mail campaign and in large part by the King's Point neighborhood. Each King's Point household pays $2.50 a month as part of their HOA fee.

Sun City Center grows, and so does the demand

King's Point is just one of many subdivisions in Sun City Center, and the need for help is greater than ever. The population is booming, and the emergency squad serves an area of 11,000 homes and over 22,000 people, 3,000 of whom are in assisted living facilities.

Even though the service area boundaries haven't budged in 40 years, one thing has changed: density. People are moving to this south Hillsborough County area in great numbers.

Down the road from the emergency squad is one of the busiest fire stations in the county, Hillsborough Fire Rescue Station 28. This station fields over 16,000 emergency calls a year. Chief Louis Carnell, who has been a part of Station 28 for nearly three decades, says the Sun City Center Emergency Squad is a constant guardian for residents and visitors, adding he has not worked with a more professional organization. Carnell is always amazed by the excellent, selfless service provided free of charge to the community.

The need for volunteers

Emergency volunteers typically serve seven years, but some people defy the average: One volunteer has served for 28!

Bardell says as emergency squad volunteers retire, they are hard to replace. Quite simply, younger generations are not quite as interested in this line of volunteerism.

While the greatest need is for more EMTs and EMRs, there are other important volunteer positions available, including dispatch, administration, apparatus maintenance, cooks, front desk help, and more. Bardell said that he can find a position for just about anyone.

The 55-plus community embraces the Sun City Center Emergency Squad and usually calls them before dialing 9-1-1. Bardell says that when responding to calls, volunteers take time to closely listen to residents, which makes all the difference. Whether it's a fall, laceration, or a cardiac event, residents relate to squad volunteers and listen to them when a hospital visit is in order.

The squad and the community keep Bardell sticking around. "To be able to help someone in their worst situation makes you feel good. I brag daily about our squad, and they consistently go out and prove me right," boasts Bardell.

In February 2024, the Sun City Center Emergency Squad will celebrate 60 years of excellent service to the community. To learn more or to volunteer, call (813) 633-1411 or visit www.sccems.com.

Image Caption: Sun City Emergency Squad
Posted: 1/8/2024, 5:07:46 PM