Local volunteer firefighters and EMTs respond to a motor vehicle accident in 2017. Because of great volunteers, situations like this are responded to in a timely manner. Progress File Photo
Local volunteer firefighters and EMTs respond to a motor vehicle accident in 2017. Because of great volunteers, situations like this are responded to in a timely manner. Progress File Photo

Progress Staff Writer

Everyone has been sitting in their living room or in a car at a stop light and heard the familiar sirens of an EMS or fire truck whizzing by. Or maybe you have been the person they are coming to rescue.

Paulding County has EMS units in Oakwood, Antwerp, Paulding, Payne, Scott and Grover Hill. Those entities also service other areas in the county and overlap territories if another unit is unable to answer a page.

In addition to EMS, we have fire departments in the above mentioned locations in addition to stations in Cecil/Crane Township and Auglaize Township.

These stations are manned by volunteers who graciously give up their time to assist the members of our county.

But these stations are running low on volunteers. This is a trend seen around the country, and especially in rural areas such as Paulding County. The volunteer rate is decreasing while the call rate is increasing.

When asked what will happen to these entities if volunteers are not found, Amber Schuerman Payne EMS coordinator stated, “They will disappear – the smaller groups like Payne. If we can’t keep them staffed, if we can’t respond to runs, we will disappear. They will end up doing a universal station. We can provide quicker response if we are local. It’s very important for us to have these close by for all of these communities.”

The Village of Payne currently has 20 volunteers on its roster for EMS and fire. Ten people are trained just for fire, five are cross-trained in fire and EMS and five are just trained for EMS.

Payne has been reaching out to the community for many months looking for people to volunteer for training. They currently have volunteers in training, but they are still in need of more.

EMS training is paid for by most of the villages. Applicants must have a high school education, and a clear background check including no felonies or substance abuse issues. 150 hours of training is split between classroom time and clinicals. To obtain your licensure you must pass the class and pass the basic EMT test.

Classes are usually held two days a week in the evenings. Individuals who are seniors in high school are allowed to start taking the classes also. Some villages also offer monetary bonuses to applicants who pass the registry test.

There are three levels of EMTs: basic, intermediate and paramedic. Most volunteers in the county are basic EMTs, and the training provided by the villages is for basic EMT certification.

Runs per month vary based on the size of the areas covered. Payne EMS can respond to up to 30 runs a month with volume picking up during the holidays.

Statistics show that volunteer fire departments save municipalities around $139.8 billion per year in firefighting costs. Volunteers make up 70% of the nation’s firefighters, and volunteer firefighter departments comprise 84% of the nation’s departments.

But, fire departments are still having a hard time recruiting and maintaining firefighters.

“Career and volunteer firefighter and emergency services are the infantry in every community when disaster strikes,” said Denis Onieal, acting U.S. Fire Administrator. “There is no force at the state level or at the federal level, with the exception of the National Guard, that can provide a community with rescue, mitigation and recovery services like the fire and emergency services community.”

In our county, many of the firefighters and EMTs are crossed-trained, meaning they can work as firefighters or EMTs. According to Ashley McDougall, Antwerp advanced EMT and billing clerk, “There is and always will be a need for volunteers, especially during the daytime hours. That is when we are shorthanded, especially on the fire side. Of the 14 currently on the EMS, seven of them are also firefighters. So if we have a fire they go with the fire department, if it is a motor vehicle crash they will see where they are most needed and go out.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for the lack of volunteers. Some people don’t have the time to commit to the training or call schedule. The decrease also could be attributed to more young people leaving the area or just a lack of interest in serving our community. McDougall noted, “We also hear that they could just never do the job. Well, honestly, there are days where we can’t either, but thankfully the good days outweigh the bad.”

If volunteer numbers keep dwindling, these entities will not be able to properly service the needs of their area. If you are having a heart attack, you want to someone to respond in a timely manner. If you are in a car accident, you want help to be able to come as soon as possible. If our county is without those volunteers, who will be there to help?