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Golden Anniversary Escalon Ambulance Still Going Strong
A lifesaving community service organization 50 years in the making, Escalon Community Ambulance will mark its Golden Anniversary with a special day of celebration on Saturday, April 30.

Organized in 1961 by a group of residents who saw the need for ambulance services in the small but growing community, ECA is still an important and viable part of Escalon in 2011.

Chief Mike Pitassi has been with ECA for 23 years and said the goal really is to celebrate not only the lifesaving work done through the ambulance service, but also the community support that has kept the organization in business.

"We've asked the city for permission to block the street in front of the ambulance station so we can have antique ambulances, fire trucks, some World War II ambulances on display," Pitassi said.

Representatives from other squads around the region have also been invited, with Patterson, West Side, Modesto, Oakdale, Manteca and Stockton among those likely to turn up with an ambulance crew or two.

Festivities on April 30 are planned from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will feature the equipment displays, music, a barbecue, games, possibly even a demonstration or two.

"MediFlight is also scheduled to land, in the parking lot across the street," Pitassi said. "Escalon Fire Department and Farmington Fire Department will bring their rescue trucks for display as well."

A formal ceremony is slated for 11:30 a.m., with introduction of dignitaries and some brief remarks by officials.

"We're hoping for a good weekend, good weather," Pitassi noted.

Senior lead medic Tina Van Houten has been with ECA a few years longer than Pitassi, and was a volunteer EMT when he started with the service in 1987. Vanessa Herrero is also a longtime staffer, a lead medic.

"I was the first paid staff member, now we have seven," Pitassi said.

Other paid staff includes EMTs Leah Robinson, Joe Collins, Will Norman and Mark Bonham, with several volunteers also swelling the ranks.

"We still have quite a lot of reserves," added Pitassi. "My last count was at 18 staff members."

The station is also staffed 24 hours, with someone available to respond to calls at any time of the day or night.

They also have transport vans and the ability to transport the handicapped in their wheelchair rig.

Pitassi said the community owes a great deal to those visionaries who started the service, which has continued to provide emergency ambulance services to the community and a membership program that makes the service affordable.

Membership fees have helped purchase all the equipment the ECA uses and Pitassi said he and fellow staff members are grateful for the support. That's one of the reasons they want the community to attend the April 30 party, which will also include birthday cake to help observe the big 5-0.

"When I came here, I occupied the cloak room at the Escalon Community Center," Pitassi said of the humble beginnings for the service.

He had little more than a telephone and a two-drawer filing cabinet. They later had an office in a garage behind Dr. Haskin's office at California and Oklahoma, finally moving - about 20 years ago - to the station on Ullrey. Escalon Community Ambulance is now also affiliated with Oak Valley Hospital District, joining in partnership with them in 1995.

"Over the years, there have been a lot of changes," Pitassi said.

But the one thing that has been constant, he added, is the support of the community in keeping the life-saving service thriving. ECA lists about 3,000 members, accounting for an estimated 1,100 households in the community.