Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Lack of volunteers hurts everyone

West Concord is the latest community to experience serious difficulties in keeping ambulance services going because of a lack of volunteers.

At a special council meeting recently, residents learned that the city would be suspending ambulance service from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. During those hours the West Concord Fire Department first responders will answer calls, but any ambulance transport will be coming from the Dodge Center Ambulance. West Concord’s ambulance will be available for evening and weekend hours.

City officials tried to reassure the residents that the lack of West Concord ambulance during daytime hours will not result in lengthy delays in getting patients to medical facilities. Even though it will take time for the Dodge Center ambulance to get to West Concord, they said, the first responders on the scene will have most of the pre-transport work completed when they arrive.

The reason for the suspension of service is a lack of volunteers. All the first responders and EMTs serving in West Concord are volunteers. When a call comes from the Dodge County 911 dispatcher, they drop what they doing and go to help their fellow residents.

This has become especially problematic because most of the volunteers for the department do not work in West Concord. This has meant that there have only been a couple of individuals in town during the day who could be counted on to be able to leave their jobs and respond to a call.

Plus, those volunteers have been doing this work for years and as they are getting older are finding it harder and harder to do the heavy lifting required.

It was pointed out at the meeting that the ambulance cot alone weighs more than 80 pounds and when the weight of a body is added it is hard to lift in and out of the ambulance.

Two make matters worse, city officials said, two of three individuals who have always been able to respond retired at the end of the year.

This problem is by no means limited to West Concord. Unlike their urban counterparts, rural fire and ambulance service rely heavily on community volunteers. Volunteers who are well-trained to do their jobs.

The contract with the Dodge Center Ambulance, West Concord Mayor Jeffrey McCool said, will be until June. That will hopefully give the city time to recruit and hire two full-time EMTs who can cover the daytime, weekday shifts.

The rest of the time, however, they will still rely on volunteers.

Government officials throughout the nation are well aware of the problems these rural providers are facing.

In comments to the Kasson Chamber of Commerce last fall, Sen. Carla Nelson, District 24, acknowledged that rural ambulance services are facing tough times. Legislators, she said, are aware of the “huge problem” facing ambulance services in greater Minnesota.

Outstate communities need these services, she said, and legislators will work to see they have access to the funding they need to provide them.

Any funding that the Legislature can provide to these communities will surely be welcome.

However, the reality is there will never be enough money to have full-time, paid EMTs providing these services 24 hours a day, seven days a week in every rural community.

A large part of the solution lies with community members. These people perform an important service and joining them will benefit the entire community. Anyone interested in volunteering to be trained to join their local fire and ambulance departments as a first responder or EMT will be welcomed.

For anyone in West Concord interested in becoming an EMT with the local department, there is information on the West Concord website. If you live in another community, simply contact your city officials.

American communities have a strong history of citizen involvement. While those numbers seem to have been dropping in recent years, now is the time to step up again and offer to help your fellow community members.


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