“You’ve got your certificate of occupancy.”
These words are guaranteed to gladden the heart of anyone involved in a construction project in the Virgin Islands.
On Tuesday, Bob Malacarne, president of the board of St. John Rescue, heard those welcome words spoken by Marvin Vaughan, the construction manager for the V.I. Housing Finance Authority.
St. John Rescue is now putting the finishing touches on a 1,200-square-foot building on Gifft Hill which will serve as headquarters for the organization – a group of volunteers that has literally been a life-saver to victims of accidents and medical emergencies since 1996.
The new building was funded through a series of Community Development Block Grants facilitated by Jennifer Jones and managed through the V.I. Housing Finance Authority. A grant of almost $196,000 was used to purchase the property next to the Fork in the Road sign, just across the road from the Gifft Hill School.
A second grant, of $1.1 milion, was awarded in February 2019 to pay for the building’s design and construction, and Vaughan seemed pleased to report that Phase 1 of the project has been completed on time and within budget. Phase 2, which includes the installation of hurricane shutters, solar panels, and a generator house, is now underway.
A new building is only part of the good news. Last week, St. John Rescue’s board announced the appointment of Kristin Robinson as the new executive director, and Jacquelyn Parsons-Browne as the new director of operations.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have them,” said Malacarne. “Kristin brings with her over 30 years of experience with directing non-profits, most recently with Gifft Hill School. We feel very confident that she will be able to bring our organization up to peak performance. Jackie is an Emergency Medical Technician who has the expertise to oversee our response capabilities – making sure our equipment is all operational, and our volunteers are properly trained.”
The new headquarters was designed by Mike De Haas of Springline Architects and built by Brent Squires of Stone Masonry LLC. Made of solid concrete with stone facing, the building was designed to blend in with the residential character of the neighborhood. Members and volunteers continue to work on projects to get the building ready for a grand opening.
In addition to providing ample space for classes in CPR, First Aid, and more advanced training, the new building includes an office, a kitchen, and a communications room to house equipment for ham radio, the V.I. government’s first responders network, and STJ Rescue’s own network.
St. John Rescue works in tandem with the V.I. Fire Service, Police Department, Emergency Medical Services, VITEMA, and the National Park Service. With 16 to 20 active members who live throughout the island, St. John Rescue volunteers are often among the first to arrive on the scene of an emergency. Several keep fully-equipped St. John Rescue vehicles at their homes. The organization also owns two boats and can assist with water rescues.
In addition to Malacarne, officers are Dr. Cynthia Good, vice president; Ann McCrave, secretary; Theresa Sim, treasurer; and Steve De Blasio, liaison. Dylan Baird is deputy chief.
Members are given frequent opportunities to advance their skills, including search and rescue techniques. The new headquarters is situated on relatively flat land, but a 25-foot drop off behind the building is an ideal spot to train members in the use of ropes and rappelling techniques, skills that are often needed when a vehicle goes off the road.
“Over the past 12 months we have certified over 200 people in either CPR or First Aid, responded to 125 activities (including emergencies, events, exercises,) and logged in over 2,500 hours of volunteer time,” Malacarne said. New members are always welcome, he added.
St. John Rescue continues to find a way to offer CPR and First Aid classes to local schools, organizations, and individuals.
“The courses have been modified to reflect the current situation with COVID-19,” Malacarne said. “If you are interested in taking a CPR class please contact the office at 340-693-7377 and leave your name and phone number. We will call you back and set you up with our new hybrid course. Students will be emailed a link to the CPR course and they will be directed to take the course and the test. Once successful, you will be contacted to make an appointment for a one-on-one practical test at our headquarters. We feel that this is the safest way to teach CPR to the public.”
The next major training program – for certification as an emergency medical responder – has been postponed until November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacarne said. (This 80-hour course is a less-detailed version of the 200-hour course required to become an emergency medical technician.) The emergency medical responder course provides training for emergencies including traffic accidents, falls, strokes, and heart attacks.
The course in November will begin with online instruction and continue in January with live instruction, “but everything is pending COVID,” Malacarne said. The course will be taught by Brenda Tenney, who has led programs along with others on St. John in recent years.
The organization has come a long way since it first began as a loose group of volunteers called together in 1996 by Anibal “Chickie” Morciglio, the head of St. Thomas Rescue. Morciglio saw a need on St. John for increased emergency response following Hurricane Marilyn. Members of St. John Rescue in the 1990’s included Elmo Rabsatt, Walter Trillhaase, Valerie Trillhaase, Darrell Tasman, Godwin Sprauve, Jens Pickering, Bruce Fagan, Jan Trainor, Alfredo Alejo, and Janice Bauer.
Malacarne recalled the early days of the organization.
“Our first rescue vehicle was an antiquated Chevy Blazer that we acquired from Property and Procurement in 1999. It was technically a four-wheel drive car, but we were never able to get it into four-wheel drive. We were able to borrow a red flashing dash light from the Fire Department, but we did not have a siren.”
Godwin Sprauve, Walt Trillhaase and Malacarne built shelving in the back compartment to house the new Jaws of Life, a trauma kit, and some gear. They bought lettering from the hardware store and put “ST JOHN RESCUE” on each door in order to identify the vehicle.
“We now officially had a ‘RESCUE ONE’ that we kept at the Cruz Bay Fire Station next to the softball field,” Malacarne said. “Unfortunately, one day an errant soft ball smashed the rear side window of RESCUE ONE. Since we had no funds to replace the window, Godwin and I found a piece of plywood, cut it to shape, applied some adhesive, and secured the opening as best we could. That piece of plywood remained in place until 2002 when our new RESCUE ONE arrived to replace the old truck. Thanks to former Sen. Rocky Liburd for securing the funding for that truck which is still in service.”
St. John Rescue played a critical role in search and rescue operations following Hurricane Irma in 2017. Their visible good deeds led to sufficient donations to create an endowment of almost $1 million which now produces a funding source for daily operations.
Malacarne said he joined St. John Rescue in 1999 when the group used to meet to swap stories under the black olive tree in Mongoose Junction. That was the first of many meeting spots throughout the years. Next year, to celebrate their 25th anniversary, St. John Rescue members will hold “a bash” and plant a black olive tree at their new headquarters.