Former CARS Commander
Hometown: Englewood, FL
As part of our 50th celebration, we will be introducing you to some of our members. We are excited to share their stories and how they serve our community. This week we are happy to feature Tony Mello.
Former Commander Tony Mello joined Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Services back in 1980 as a Junior Member at just 14-years-old. Tony used to ride his bike to the station for calls, which was then based out of one of the bays of the former Cross Mills Fire Station, and vividly remembers Rescue’s first ambulances- a white Cadillac ambulance and a retrofitted white and green Dodge Van. The former Commander has seen the organization through the many changes, challenges, and triumphs that have shaped CARS into what it is today; including its journey to securing a stable home and gaining financial independence.
Tony recalls when CARS was without a building location after Cross Mills Fire needed the bay that CARS was operating out of for its new engine. For over a year, the ambulances had to be left outside at a member’s home on Narrow Lane and at the Shannock Fire station. This made winters at Rescue especially challenging ,since the ambulances had to be warmed up and cleared of snow before being used to respond to a call. In 1983, two local residents stepped in to change things for the better and were able to secure land at no cost. That property became Rescue’s permanent home, where it still resides today on Old Post Road. When the original station was constructed, Tony was a part of the historic process, riding up the trusses to secure the roof!
Tony was also there through the department’s financial troubles in the late 80s and early 90s, where there was a mass exodus of volunteers that left CARS with only 4 EMTs at the time. But as always, CARS pushed through and persevered in its journey to fiscal recovery with the help of its members and the community. With the help of several new members, CARS secured grants that allowed the department to evolve from a Basic Life Support (BLS) provider with EMTs to an Advanced Life Support (ALS) organization with Paramedics. “We are here to get the ambulance out the door and help people,” says Tony.
Another step forward included transferring the responsibility of the department’s tedious billing work from a member to a corporate medical billing company, which was able to recover one hundred thousand dollars in collectibles over just two years. That, combined with continued grants, allowed the department to pull itself out of the financial ditch and move forward toward success. Volunteers started returning; additions were made to the building including a bunkroom, kitchen, and day room; and CARS started providing mutual aid to surrounding towns. This progress boosted the morale of the department’s members and fostered a clubhouse environment with a strong camaraderie and sense of belonging.
From fulfilling 200 calls a year back then to over 1000 calls a year today, CARS has come a long way in the service of its community, and Tony was there to witness it every step of the way. He served as Commander of CARS until the mid-1990s and credits CARS for his success at the Warwick Fire Department where he retired in 2020 as Superintendent. He says he’s “Proud to see CARS is still a business after 50 years with an awesome reputation.”