When you dial 9-1-1 you expect someone to show up quickly and help right?
Well unless EMS groups can bring in more volunteers, and maintain a steady crew, that may not be so easy. But one Vermont town has identified some reasons for the lack of volunteers, and they're looking to remedy the situation.
"Probably a lot of people don't think about it until you need to," commented Charles Safford. He says emergency first response volunteers are the life-blood of a community, "When your house is on fire or you're the one having chest pains, but they perform a core, fundamental service to the community."
But the Stowe Town Manager, like many other community leaders across Vermont, is facing an on-going battle. And it's one that impacts everyone. "I realized that we're going to be in trouble soon, not being able to get our job done if we don't turn this around," stated Scott Brinkman. He's talking about the lack of EMS volunteers within the 'Ski Capital of the East'.
"We used to ask people to give one shift every week. we've started to find that can scare people away when they knock on the door. so we cut back how many hours we asked people to give each month," said the EMS Director. Brinkman is just one of 4 full-timers within the department. He says they've got a roster of 25 active volunteers. But for the 70 square miles of rugged country they cover, he wishes the number was closer to 40. "Jumping up from the dinner table, running away from family get-togethers, missing kids engagements, to be available to your community when they are in need. It's rewarding work, but it's harder and harder to find more people willing to do it at the same level we've had in the past," said Brinkman.
Both Brinkman and Safford say an aging population, time commitments, and tough EMS certification requirements are behind the decline. It takes 120 hours for a volunteer to work through the state's lowest EMS requirement, and responses levels above that require at least 80 hours to complete. "Anyone who's taken a CPR class in their life knows would tell you if they took another one today, that CPR has changed greatly over the years. That's the tip of the iceberg for EMS. All kinds of things are changing all the time in the way we handle different types of illnesses and injuries, and people have to stay current with that and keep their skills proficient so they can do a good job," he said.
It's why the town hired a consulting firm to help it come up with options. "We need to understand the trajectory of what the human resource needs are, and whether we're able to answer that through volunteers, or if we're going to continue to bring on more employees to provide the services to the level the community desires," explained Safford.
There are options. hire more full-timers, take a more regional approach, fully combine with the Fire Department. And it's the report will help the town nail-down the best outcome. But the hope is volunteers will re-emerge as the best choice. "Not everyone needs to run into a burning building, there are different roles, but it takes a special person to respond to an emergency," said Safford.
The lack of volunteers has meant that twice in 2014, and twice in 2015, there were no crews readily available to answer emergency calls. In those cases EMS crews from neighboring towns had to cover.
Stowe will get the 'volunteering report' from the consulting firm in October.
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