Volunteer ambulance services struggle to surviveSome volunteer ambulance services are putting out a call for more volunteers.
By: Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Some volunteer ambulance services are putting out a call for more volunteers. In a few cases, it’ll mean the difference between local first responders or waiting twice as long for an outside service to respond.
Mary Ann Schoch is one of just four emergency medical technicians in the Glidden Ambulance Service. But it isn’t just Glidden. They serve remote places like Jacobs, Peeksville, Gordon and Shanagolden. So Schoch says the volunteer EMTs are in each other’s hip pocket.
“Because we’re telling each other where we are all the time,” Schoch says. “If I’m going to the grocery store, I’m emailing (EMT) Sharon. ‘I’m going to the grocery store. I’ll be out of town two hours.”
Schoch has been a volunteer EMT since 1975. Now as director of the all-volunteer Glidden Ambulance Service, she says their situation is dire. Either they double their volunteer numbers, or shutdown.
“We don’t have young people staying here anymore,” Schoch says. “They’re moving away. They’re going to bigger cities to get jobs or going to school to become educated and do things away from us.”
So last month, they called an emergency town meeting; 25 people showed up in the Jacobs Town Hall. Gordon Town Chairman Doug Thorpe says that’s not enough.
“I don’t understand it. I mean this is something (that) affects every single person and every single family in our four townships. I mean, this is everybody. And 25 people show up? And then they’ll all be crying if this goes away.”
If the volunteer ambulance service goes away, the townships can contract with nearby Mellen and Park Falls. But that’s expensive. And Thorpe says it could double response time.
“If it’s going to take an half an hour to an hour for an ambulance to get here, maybe I should move somewhere closer to where I can get to a hospital in ten minutes,” Thorpe says. “If I have a heart attack, the odds are, the first hour is golden, they say right?”
He said if the wait time is 30-45 minutes, they’ll never get to the hospital within that critical time frame.
Last year, the Glidden Ambulance Service responded to 63 emergency calls. Schoch says the norm used to be 150. But like many rural areas, the population is declining.
About two-thirds of Wisconsin’s 808 fire departments and ambulance services rely on volunteers. Wisconsin EMT Coordinator Ray Lemke says most of them are holding their own, but some are like Glidden, and struggling to recruit volunteers.
“As times change and as attitudes change, sometimes we see the spirit of volunteerism is diminished a little bit about the state,” Lemke says. “Sometimes it waxes and wanes. We have done some interventions with them as far as providing some tactical and technical assistance out of our office here to assist those services, if there are things that we can do, suggestions we have made.”
Lemke suggests that they hold a community event and let people know they need help.
It does take commitment. People are required to take several hours of training to be certified as an EMT, and then take a refresher course every two years. Back at the Jacobs Town Hall, half a dozen people came forward to sign up for certification training. Gary Eder, 29, of Glidden says he’ll do what it takes.
“If this ambulance service falls apart, this town is going to go with it, Eder says. “I mean, it’s one of the last things holding this community together because without it everybody’s going to leave to get health care elsewhere.”
Brandon Dockerty’s dad needed the ambulance recently. So the 30 year-old is signing up too. “because they need it up here. What are they going to do if they lose it?” he asked.
If four of the six new volunteers pass the training and become certified by September, the Glidden Ambulance Service will continue to operate.
Wisconsin Public Radio can be heard locally on 91.3 KUWS-FM and online at www.wpr.org.