First Responders Profile: SARS Chief Fred Trasatti

Second Alarmers Rescue Squad's chief of operations has led the largest nonprofit EMS agency in the region toward providing the best in life-saving services.

By Gerry Dungan | Email the author | January 13, 2011

On any given Wednesday, Chief Fred Trasatti Jr. and can be seen wearing his blue Second Alarmers Rescue Squad (SARS) uniform.

He forgoes his chief’s uniform, while on duty, in order to show solidarity with the SARS volunteers and career members. These highly trained men and women respond to medical emergencies at a siren’s notice, and they wear this blue on-duty SARS uniform.

“My guys go out and that’s the emergency room pulling up to your front door,” Trasatti said.

SARS, whose headquarters is located in Willow Grove, is one of the largest, nonprofit, 911 Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers in the region. The organization responds to over 10,000 emergency calls a year in Abington, Upper Dublin, Upper Moreland and Whitpain townships, as well as in Hatboro, Jenkintown and Rockledge boroughs.

According to the SARS website, there are 100 volunteer and 123 career members who utilize a fleet of state of the art emergency vehicles. 

Before joining SARS in 1970, Trasatti, who is a native of South Philadelphia, had his first experience with EMS in Cape May, NJ.

He often accompanied his family to summer vacations in North Cape May, where they owned a home. By 1965, his parents moved permanently moved to Cape May, and Trasatti spent his junior and senior years at Lower Cape May Regional High School (he originally attended the now defunct Bishop Neuman High school in Philadelphia). 

During this time, Trasatti was a teenager with a driver’s license.

“I know it’s cliché, but I wanted to help people,” Trasatti said, recalling his reason for joining the Lower Township Rescue Squad in Cape May. “I got interested in joining the ambulances, and that was the start of my career.”

After high school, Trasatti joined the Marines and went to Vietnam. He served for three years and seven months as a combat engineer, where he found and disposed of mines.

“When you get in a fire fight, and there’s a lot of wounded people with only a few to help,” Trasatti said, “I helped bandage guys for meda-vacs.”

Trasatti earned four purple hearts. Coming home, his experience in Vietnam never abated his desire to help people.

“It whetted my appetite to go back and further my education,” Trasatti said. 

Trasatti recuperated at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, and eventually took a job as a physician’s aid at that hospital, who also worked in Abington Memorial Hospital.

At Abington Hospital, Trasatti came into two important events: he met his wife, who was a nursing student at the time, and he got into a friendly argument with an ambulance driver.

Trasatti recalls being displeased with the performance of this ambulance driver and a patient of his, and told him so. In response, the driver challenged Trasatti to make a difference and join.

The driver, of course, was from SARS.

“So, I came down, and liked what I saw,” Trasatti said.

He joined as an assistant engineer, a position tasked to keep emergency vehicles running, while responding to emergency calls himself.

“They were called ‘Mother May I calls,’ back then,” Trasatti said.

He explained that ambulance operators in the mid-1970s were not allowed to administer first-aid or other medical procedures without first consulting the emergency room doctors.  

But, as the state kept recognizing the value of ambulance personnel, Trasatti kept up with the increasing levels of training required by the state.

He went from a practitioner of first aid to being a paramedic for 19 years. He is currently an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and has seen the advancement of emergency medical equipment.

“The equipment is phenomenal, compared to when we first started,” Trasatti said. “What’s different about our trucks, is that the 13 [SARS] ambulances are all laid out the same.”

Under Trasatti’s direction, such an arrangement with the trucks took over six years to accomplish, as he saw to replace aging ambulances, one-by-one, until all such trucks in the fleet were the same model and lay-out.

The ambulance updates were a tactical one for Trasatti. He saw the over 220 volunteer and career members working 12-hour shifts at five different stations, didn’t have time to give a second-thought about equipment familiarity; especially when the difference of seconds meant life or death.

“I believe in innovations,” Trasatti said.

The newest ambulance in the fleet, according to Trasatti, costs upwards to $160,000.

According to Trasatti, SARS requires members to undergo further training to join the organization, regardless of the candidate’s Emergency Medical Technitian (EMT) or paramedics status.

Such training costs money, and along with the hundreds of dollars worth of life-saving equipment, SARS is always on the lookout for donations or grant-funds, and relies on medical insurance to maintain the quality of service.

As a nonprofit organization, SARS is independent of any township, and doesn't receive funds from taxes.

“I want the public to know that we’re not just ambulance guys,” Trasatti said. “We reduce the amount of time a patient spends at the hospital because of the pre-hospital service we deliver.”

 At 63, Trasatti has worked and volunteered in EMS services for the past 40 years. He has been elected chief of operations by the SARS board of directors, in the late 1970s and again in the early 1980s. Currently, Trasatti has been the SARS chief since 2006.

“I stayed, because I saw a path that we could be taking,” Trasatti said of his tenure with SARS. “I’m talking about the quality of the person that gets out the service.”

Earlier this month, SARS was given a Senate Citation for being one of the best places to work in Pennsylvania by State Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-12).