The people of San Ramón, 65 kilometers west of San José along theInter-American Highway
, have something no other community has: a Land Rover Defender heavy-duty ambulance, bought by the people themselves through a Contributing Family Program that ensures Red Cross help will always be there.
The new ambulance, loaded with halogen lights, four-wheel drive, fat tires and five doors, can carry up to six people and converts into a rolling clinic that can go anywhere. Its suspension system gives it a smooth ride for patients in any terrain.
The vehicle proved its value after the Jan. 8 earthquake when it carried food and medical supplies and helpers to nearby Poasito, one of the towns hard hit by the magnitude 6.2 temblor.
The canton of San Ramón has four ambulances covering an area of 989 square kilometers, including the busyBernardo Soto Highway
as well as villages almost isolated on gravel and dirt roads. Monthly ambulance calls run about 590, according to Juan José Alvarado, who coordinates the Contributing Family Program.
This unique program was set up seven years ago to provide needed funding for the Red Cross in San Ramón.
“National funds and Tico Bingo pay some expenses, but cannot cover all. This program is based on monthly contributions by families and is used only to buy emergency equipment,” Alvarado explains.
More than 4,000 families are enrolled in the program. Some pay as little as ¢500 ($0.90) a month. Others pay more.
The Red Cross shares a building with other agencies, so when people come to pay their electric, water or phone bills, they can just step across the hall and make their Red Cross contribution. The program is growing because people see a need for it and can see what their contribution brings.
Family contributors are enthusiastic about the program, which has bought defibrillators, backboards, intubation kits, oxygen tanks, cervical collars and other items to ensure quality emergency care for everything from serious highway accidents to birthing babies. There is never a charge for Red Cross service or ambulances.
A biannual magazine for contributors explains how their money is spent, with photos of new equipment, testimonies from contributors and emergency information. A CD in English explains the program for English-speaking residents and is available free at the Red Cross office in the center of San Ramón, between the fire station and the AyA office.