Where there’s smoke, there’s a SAESA open house and chicken BBQ

by Alex Weddon          

“It wouldn’t be a Stockbridge Memorial Day without our annual Chicken Barbeque,” observed John Beck, SAESA general manager when asked about the scheduled Memorial Day open house for the Stockbridge Area Emergency Services Authority’s impressive new headquarters.

SAESA General Manager John Beck

The former automobile dealership, located at the corner of South Clinton and M-52 in Stockbridge, was purchased in 2018 and renovated at a cost of $300,000 to house the ambulance and fire fighting departments. Completed in March of this year, Beck scheduled the open house for Memorial Day to tie in with the popular barbecue. 

“No sense in scheduling two big events when one will do. Our fundraising barbecue always draws a crowd, and the Open House will only add to the numbers,” he predicted.

Staffed by Beck, office clerk Becky Muraf and two first responders, the department has 20 emergency services paramedics and 25 firefighters on call. With three ambulances, four fire trucks and other specialty vehicles, SAESA responded to over 1,250 calls for help in 2018. 

Beck, a 1986 graduate of Stockbridge High School, has been on the job since first volunteering for the Stockbridge Ambulance Association in 1990. “I was appointed as the director of Emergency Medical Services in 1997 when Hank Shellenbarger retired. 

Following a major change in Medicare payments for ambulance runs in 2002, many communities were facing financial trouble funding the critical services. “The townships of Waterloo, White Oak, Stockbridge and Bunker Hill addressed the challenge with the formation of a Fire and Ambulance Authority in 2006. Each township levied a millage to fund the combined, new SAESA.

Currently operating on a $550,000 annual budget, the note for the building could be paid in ten years. Volunteers make all the difference, helping keep costs low.

“We don’t assess fees for fighting fires, and if an ambulance is needed but no patient is transported, no charge,” Beck explained. The cost conscious general manager also keeps busy by washing vehicles when not managing paperwork and scheduling. He uses his own lawn equipment to cut the grass and attend to anything that “needs doing.”

“Ron Hodder and Paul Risner have given a great deal of time and material -landscaping, pouring concrete, even putting up the flagpole, they are an example of the many great volunteers that make all the difference here,” he added. 

Stockbridge Explorers Jacob Hudson (left), club leader Ron Hodder and Lauren Morris. Hudson, a 2017 SHS grad from Gregory and Stockbridge resident Morris, SHS 2018, are advancing their paramedic training through the mentoring of Hodder. Bob’s been the leader of this Boy Scouts of America program for career minded High School students since 1994. Hudson and Morris joined the Explorers in Stockbridge High School and are now on their way to careers in Emergency Medical Services.

The annual chicken roasting as a Memorial Day fundraiser for the fire department dates back to the 1960s before the community had an ambulance service. This year the fire starts at noon May 27 and will run until all the birds are gone or 3 p.m., cost of the BBQ meal: $10.

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