A few years ago, San Francisco firefighter Michael Moynihan heard about an organization in New York called the Central Park Medical Unit, an all-volunteer ambulance service that since 1975 has provided free emergency medical services to Central Park’s 35 million annual visitors.

Michael, who lives near Oakland’s Lakeside Park, was intrigued and inspired. “Central Park and Lake Merritt: they’re both the jewels of their cities,” says Michael. Why not, he wondered, form an organization that offered free CPR classes to as many people as possible around Lake Merritt?

In 2011, he and a handful of his first-responder friends formed the Lake Merritt Medical Unit (LMMU). Since then, the small group has provided volunteer medical backup for a number of events at the park. Children’s Fairyland, Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders, the Gardens at Lakeside Park and the Walk to End Poverty have all been on the receiving end of the LMMU’s generosity and expertise.

Now, however, LMMU finds itself at a turning point. It has trained nearly 100 community members (including Fairyland staff and volunteers) in CPR, and would like to identify and train more, and to be able to assist at more community events that need a medical-response presence. To do that, it needs to recruit more EMT-trained medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, who are willing to contribute their time and skill.

Also high on LMMU’s wish list: a new venue for conducting training sessions. (In the past, the group used space provided by the nearby First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, but that space is no longer available.) Finally, it wants to connect with funders willing to underwrite the group’s activities.

Michael told me that medical volunteerism is widespread back East. Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and even the city that Oakland is often compared to—Brooklyn—have extensive and enthusiastic stables of medical professionals who participate in volunteer emergency activities, he said.

He acknowledges that LMMU’s publicity efforts so far have been limited to a website, a Facebook page and flyers in local coffee shops. It’s also true that the Central Park group that inspired Michael had a long head start. It was created almost 40 years ago with 20 volunteers, a few bikes and a retrofitted Ford van. Donated ambulances and a permanent first aid station were later established in Central Park to accommodate the needs of skaters, bikers and participants in special events.

The group now boasts a volunteer staff of more than 150 “diverse and compassionate volunteers,” whose backgrounds range from professional EMTs and paramedics to nurses and doctors who have “an intensive and expert knowledge” of Central Park’s geography. Last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg formally commended the Central Park Medical Unit for the many years it has “worked tirelessly to ensure the health and well-being of our residents and visitors alike.”

I have to believe that Oakland can do just as well as our New York counterparts. If you’re EMT-trained and can volunteer, if you would like you or your team to be CPR trained for free, if you have a community event that could use medical standby, or if you want to donate to a cause that will help make our amazing Lakeside Park safer, please consider helping out the good people at the Lake Merritt Medical Unit, a 501(c)3 organization.

As Michael points out, LMMU volunteers have fun and get a lot of emotional satisfaction out of helping their community. For more information, call Michael at (415) 572-0334 or visit lakemerrittmedic­al.­org.

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