Barbara Adams, chief of the Egg Harbor City Volunteer Ambulance Squad, sits on a table in a corner of the squad's Philadelphia Avenue station, next to two brown cardboard boxes that hold what's left of the squad's 71-year history.
Adams reaches into one, pulling out a 25-year-old photograph of herself and colleagues taken at an AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center sometime during the start of her second stint with the squad in the late '80s.
She draws her finger along the rows of smiling people. She points out her husband and two men from AtlantiCare whose names she can't remember. She notes an ambulance squad member who has since died.
She pauses as she reaches a brown-haired 30-something woman in the bottom right of the photograph.
"Oh, my god," Adams says. "That's how young I was."
Unable to afford upkeep on its rigs any longer, the ambulance squad turned off its pagers for the last time at midnight Dec. 31. AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center will now handle emergency response in Egg Harbor City.
The closure, Adams said, has been a long time coming, as donations to the squad have slowed in tandem with the economy in recent years. The squad has limped along on city funds but was forced to accept the reality of closure in late 2012.
"My heart's broken," Adams said. "This has been here all my life. I started as a teenager. I took some time off, got married, raised my family. And then I came back. I've been back, it would have been 27 years in March."
Ambulance squad treasurer Steve Hadley was one of the group's longest-serving members, having spent just more than 40 years in its ranks.
While he believes the quality of care will remain consistently high under AtlantiCare's watch, Hadley said there's still much lost in the transition.
"If my neighbor needed an ambulance, they knew that I would be there," Hadley said. "I think that's what's going to be missing."
In their years of working together, the members of the ambulance squad became close, Adams said. On Dec. 30, the group met at the station one last time for an open house, reminiscing about old times, sharing war stories and grabbing souvenirs accumulated over the years.
Hadley attended the open house, bringing home with him a picture of his now-deceased father at a squad function, which he shared with his siblings. He said the end of the ambulance squad will leave a void.
"Nothing will ever replace it," Hadley said, noting that the squad has been a second family for him.
While they may no longer be working together, Adams hopes the squad members' friendships live on, and plans on holding reunion barbecues for the summertime.
While Adams has devoted a large chunk of her life to the ambulance squad, she said filling the time gap she used to spend with the squad won't present too much of a challenge. She's a stay-at-home grandma, she said, who takes care of three of her 12 grandchildren each day.
She also volunteers with the Emergency Management Department of Egg Harbor City. But while she'll find ways to occupy herself, it won't be the same.
"That'll keep me a little busy," Adams said. "Not as busy as this did. Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to be lost for a while."
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