By Ginny Raue As if on cue, right in the middle of the interview for this article, Ken Cuneo was called out. A highly trained and experienced Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), a member and the president of the West Milford First Aid Squad (WMFAS), Cuneo was gone in a flash. Call me back tomorrow night, he said. Click.
As it turned out there was not one medical emergency call that evening, but three in a row. That happens more frequently then not, Cuneo said. Luckily the next evening was quieter, at least until the interview was over.
Cuneo, 56, was born and raised in Greenwich Village in New York City. He moved to Oakland in 1969. He graduated from Indian Hills High School in 1973 and he remains close friends with many of his high school pals.
He didnt attend college after high school, but put it on hold for 15 years. His timing was fortuitous, however, since he met Katherine, the future Mrs. Cuneo, in a social ecology class.
It was the worst class I ever had, he said. But he and Katherine formed a friendship that morphed into more. When wedding bells began to ring, Cuneo chose the year 2000 to tie the knot - so hed remember how many years hed been married. Im no fool, he said.
Now, before the ladies consider that a bit calculating, 11 years into the marriage each time Cuneo called to his wife to check a fact he called her Sunshine. Theres an aah factor there for sure.
Cuneo has worked for the past 19 years as a contractor. Self-employed, among other things he remodels baths and kitchens and does all manner of household repairs.
People give me a list of stuff they need to get fixed. I get the honey do lists, he said. Well, at least someones honey is doing it.
Cuneo has been on the WMFAS for 10 years, 9/11 being his impetus to volunteer. Beside his duty tours, as president hes responsible for the business end of the squad: budgets, communications and building repairs.
WMFAS logs about 150 calls a month, translating to four or five calls a day. Or more to the point a night, when most calls occur. The ambulances rack up approximately six to seven thousand miles a month.
All the EMTs must keep up their training to maintain their certifications. There are close to 80 volunteers now, a sizeable increase that Cuneo credits to recruiter Sue Pappas. The squad ranges in age from 20-77 years old. Things are changing and the squad will be handling more responsibilities in the near future. Right now the new members are working their way through 240 hours of training.
According to Cuneo, the hours he spends volunteering on the WMFAS, his responsibilities as president, the training and duty hours are all well worth his time. The crews become tight-knit, like family.
Its the camaraderie. Theyre the ones youre in the woods with or at an upside down vehicle. You are relying on them, he said.
When winter comes to West Milford things can get a little dicey on the roads. The crews tend to stay at the building during big storms and they rely on the township to send out plows ahead of them when necessary.
Cuneo is also a member of the towns Search and Rescue squad and recognizes the value of team work within the towns emergency response structure.
All emergency personnel work together. In other towns you hear of turf wars but that doesnt happen here. Weve been lucky, we all get along, he said.
While the squad rarely gets to know the outcome of their emergency calls, some people may send a letter or stop by to say thanks. But even without that closure, Cuneo knows how satisfied he feels inside when hes helped someone; that good feeling knows no boundaries.
On his days off Cuneo enjoys target shooting, fishing, kayaking, photography and hiking. Hes an avid Stephen King fan and collects knives and, of all things, teddy bears. He owns five motorcycles and Katherine rides with him. He did take one unusual solo trip a few years ago.
I went up to Maine to get a lobster. I got a 3.5 pounder, ate it, camped out, then drove home. Now thats a lobster lover.
The Cuneos split the cooking chores in their household. He never uses a recipe, he said. I just throw it in and most of the time it comes out good.
He sent in a recipe he created. Just throw it together, see what happens.