Wisc. Volunteer EMTs and Firefighters on the Decline

Wisc. Volunteer EMTs and Firefighters on the Decline

News Nov 19, 2017

Nov. 19—Rural Wisconsin is about to learn public safety has a price tag much larger than what it's used to paying.

While considered as much a part of the rural landscape as corn and soybean fields, the state's network of volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians is falling apart.

Leaders of Walworth and Rock counties know there's a problem. So does the state Legislature.

If government representatives agree maintaining public safety is a priority, they should begin passing laws and reorganizing departments to prevent a service crisis in rural areas in the coming years.

Walworth County recently conducted a survey indicating a willingness among municipal officials to consider consolidations and other arrangements to address declining volunteer numbers. Now is the time to begin those talks, which will undoubtedly hit snags as village and town officials jockey to protect their fiefdoms.

Small communities also will need to consider hiring full-time employees to fill gaps left by lost volunteers, which will require raising taxes unless municipalities can offset the costs through consolidations.

But these communities shouldn't be expected to confront such challenges on their own. They need the Legislature's help to transition from all-volunteer departments, though the Legislature should recognize completely abandoning the volunteer model is neither practical nor desirable.

Even if on the decline, volunteers will continue to have a place in rural fire and EMS departments, and the Legislature should create incentives to attract new and retain experienced volunteers.

The good news is a legislative committee formed in 2016 has studied this issue and made several recommendations targeting volunteer departments. Those recommendations include:

—Extending the length of some training certifications from two to four years.

Continue Reading

—Increasing contributions to volunteers' retirement accounts and lowering the required number of years, from 20 to 15, to become fully vested.

—Giving tax credits to volunteers both for their time at work and in training and for non-reimbursable expenses.

Perhaps the most controversial idea is to allow municipalities to jointly create fire districts with the authority to levy a property tax or impose fees for services.

We can almost hear the moaning of taxpayers at the suggestion of having to pay more for public safety. Shouldn't volunteers be doing their work strictly out of the goodness of their hearts? Why should they be compensated at all?

Well, if trends continue, taxpayers won't be in a position to grumble. They'll soon realize how lucky they were to have firefighters and EMTs doing dangerous work for essentially nothing.

If the state and municipalities neglect to incentivize volunteering, the alternative will be for municipalities to depend almost exclusively on full-time staff.

As it stands, hiring more full-time staff is inevitable. Volunteers are leaving departments for many reasons. Family obligations, out-of-town jobs, uncooperative employers and health risks have conspired against the volunteer model. Many people also feel less connected to their communities nowadays, and there's no easy way to reverse these trends.

The solution is to devote more funding and resources to volunteer departments while preparing for a future that relies less on volunteers.

Taxpayers, meanwhile, should prepare their pocketbooks for a reality check. The bargain they're getting today won't last much longer.

The Janesville Gazette, Wis.
The new fire station would have housed another ambulance, two more firefighters, and be able to fit modern fire trucks to fit the needs of the growing town.
For the first time since 1995, Starkville Fire Department hired a female firefighter, Bethany Allen, who is working on completing her fire academy and EMT training.
To better understand and treat the patients they revive with Narcan, firefighter-EMTs received training on opioid abuse and recovery
The collaboration supports rural healthcare providers with the goal of improving patient outcomes in Kansas through the Redivus mobile clinical decision app.
Children and young adults with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes could be up to seven times more likely to die from sudden cardiac arrest than those who don't have diabetes.
Deputy Chief State Fire Marshal Sander B. Cohen and Supervisory Special Agent Carlos Wolff were struck and killed Friday on I-270 after Cohen stopped to help Wolff after crashing his car.
Ticket sales from the Jets' recent home game will partially fund EMSCNJ's new 9/11 monument in Keansburg, NJ.
The 'Flying Eye Hospital' features exam equipment and an operating room and travels to developing countries to treat patients with blindness or eye diseases.
Allina Health EMS welcomes newcomers Joan Mellor as Director of External Affairs and Jim Soukup as the Communication Center Director.
Delray Beach wants artists to paint murals on the unsightly garbage trucks being used to barricade large outdoor events in light of the increased use of vehicles as weapons to plow into crowds.
Police have suspect Akayed Ullah in custody, who was badly injured by the bomb he detonated that injured 3 others in the Port Authority bus terminal.
Time is brain, and the Lucid System, which will eventually be tested in ambulances, could save valuable time when diagnosing and treating stroke victims.
Ben Abbott, a two-year member of Wiltshire Air Ambulance, is mentoring his new crew member James Hubbard.
Team Rubicon, a nonprofit group composed of military veterans, first responders, and doctors, has 229 volunteers deployed in Puerto Rico, where health conditions among citizens are worsening.
San Diego Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy said two of the four passengers were not able to be rescued when the plane became engulfed in flames.