Charlestown Ambulance-Rescue Service

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Meet CARS Founder Peter Abbruzzese
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By Board Member Sue Monroe
November 21, 2021

Peter Abbruzzese
CARS Founder and First Vice President

At 18-years-old, Peter Abbruzzese, who was a senior at Chariho Regional High School and Hopkinton resident, was already making a difference in his community as a volunteer with Hope Valley Ambulance Corps. It was during his time there that the young volunteer made an observation that made him realize more needed to be done, and decided to help his community in an even bigger way. Peter saw how the twenty-plus minute response time from Hope Valley and other surrounding towns to calls from Charlestown resulted in precious time being lost in emergency situations, and felt there needed to be a local ambulance service in Charlestown.

Peter’s cousin, Edward McGowan Jr., worked with North Stonington Ambulance Corps and shared his ideas. So together, the two organized the first public meeting to start a corps, which was attended by 25 people on a Saturday night. That initial meeting resulted in half a dozen people interested in volunteering and although the need was for 20, the group wasn’t discouraged by the slow start. To ensure there would be a second meeting, Peter suggested electing officers including President Peter Richards, Vice President Peter Abbruzzese, Secretary Beatrice Fox and Treasurer Donald Bennison.

This was the beginning of the creation of what would become Charlestown Ambulance-Rescue Services. Later these original officers would go on to sign the incorporation document in March 1971. Well except for Peter as he wasn’t the required age of 21. The solution was his father, Charles N. Abbruzzese stood in for his son and signed.

The first step was to recruit at least 20 volunteers to receive Red Cross First Aid training. From there, they needed to buy an ambulance and secure a location. CARS found its first home at the Cross Mills Fire Department when Chief Fred Main offered the start-up organization a bay at the station and the use of their service phones. At first, Chief Main was reluctant as they had previous unsuccessful attempts to get off the ground.

To raise funds for an ambulance, wives would host spaghetti dinners at the Cross Mills Fire Station, and donors would call the Richards’ home phone to pledge their donations. The first ambulance was a Navy surplus Cadillac vehicle from Quonset. It was painted green and white, Chariho High School’s colors by a local body shop. It was truly a homegrown, family effort in the early days of CARS. To further raise money, the group established a subscription service that’s still in place at CARS today. Modeled after North Stonington’s program, a family subscription with unlimited ambulance service was just $5 a year at the time; and those who weren’t subscribers were charged $1 per mile. Initially, donations were slow to trickle in, but that didn’t stop the group from doing what they needed to make this corps a success.

After establishing Charlestown Ambulance Corps, Peter Abbruzzese graduated high school in June 1971. Peter joined the US Air Force but unfortunately was discharged shortly thereafter. Six months after returning to Rhode Island, Peter married his high school sweetheart, Cheryl, settled in Charlestown and raised their family. He worked a variety of jobs and in 1973 achieved his goal of becoming a Charlestown Police Officer. At that time, there were only two patrolmen and a Chief. From there, Peter went on to drive cross country for Pawtuxet Valley Bus Lines. Peter and Cheryl have two daughters, Joanne and Jeana along with six grandchildren in neighboring towns. Currently they reside in Port Charlotte, FL and will be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year.

From a young volunteer with an idea, his journey has been nothing short of amazing; and his impact on their community and influence on CARS is immeasurable. Today Peter’s legacy lives on at Charlestown Ambulance-Rescue through the Junior Program. Young people continue to be shaped by volunteering at CARS, going out into the world and making a difference.

The Command Staff, Board of Directors and membership recognized Peter at the CARS banquet. Peter shared his story of how CARS was founded and how proud he is of the organization he started. We were incredibly honored to have Peter and his wife, Cheryl make the trip from Florida to join us. We are eternally grateful for his vision, determination and fortitude.

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