Who will answer the call?

Area fire departments see decline in volunteers
If the volunteers aren’t there, who’s going to respond during an emergency? KERRY PAULEY Panama Fire Chief

AREA — According to the Iowa Fire Department Census, out of the state’s 738 registered fire departments, 662 are fully volunteer. However,  volunteer fire departments throughout the state have seen a steady decline in members, and smaller volunteer fire departments, including many in Shelby County, are feeling the burn of the lack in volunteer members.
 According to the Iowa Department of Public Safety, 14,500 of the state’s 16,100 firefighters serve on volunteer departments. An estimated 1,000 volunteers leave departments annually due to illness, death, retirement, resignation, or relocation.
 “We struggle to get above 35 active members,” Harlan Fire Chief Roger Bissen said. Harlan’s department currently has 28 volunteer members.Bissen said a full roster would be 40.
 “We have struggled with maintaining a full roster for the last 20 years. There may be some years when we are able to bring on new members from the community, but we struggle to get above 35 active members,” Bissen said.
 Shelby Fire Chief Ron Kroll said, “Membership is always changing as members retire or move away, and is down from past years when we had a roster of 30 members.”
 Currently, Shelby has 20 members, including two paramedics and seven Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). Kroll said the department has focused on recruiting for the last few years and has added seven new members, including one paramedic and one  EMTA. Four members are currently attending a Firefighter I Course, and one has completed the course.
 Portsmouth Fire Chief Mike Leinen said they have 23 active members. They have around 12 volunteers able to respond to most fire calls and six who respond to most rescue calls. “We are fortunate enough to have had some young people join,” Leinen said.
 Elk Horn’s fire department roster has 16 active fire personnel and seven rescue staff members. Chief Adam McCall said the group lost four volunteers last year, but has recruited two this year. McCall noted the addition of a full-time EMT has helped.
 “Our roster is getting older every year, and it seems that a lot of the younger people don’t want to volunteer like the previous generation did,” Panama Chief Kerry Pauley stated. The department  has 16 active fire personnel and seven Rescue personnel
 “A lot of the peoples’  response when asked to join say they don’t  have time. They don’t  have to make every call or every meeting. The more people on the roster means that much more help on calls,” Pauley said.
 Earling currently  has 30 members, which is an increase from five years ago. However, member Scott Schlitz said they are in need of EMT’s.
 “We have one EMT available during the day during the summer. No one is available in the day during the winter, because everybody works-out-of town during the day.”
 Due to the decline of volunteers and available staffing during the work week, many area departments rely on additional manpower or equipment from one or more fire departments outside its jurisdiction. “We have issues with staffing depending on time of day and type of call, so mutual aid is extremely important,” Pauley said.
 “When we have a big fire call or an accident with multiple victims it can mean the difference between a good outcome and disaster.”
  McCall said Elk Horn is fortunate to have the Kimballton department in close vacinity. “Our full-time EMT is currently in paramedic school, so we will soon be able to provide Advanced Life Support (ALS) care the majority of the time.”
 “Shelby is no different than the other fire departments in the county across Iowa when it comes to staffing for rescue calls,” Kroll said.
 “Mutual aid is very important with all fire departments now, more so than ever. Not only are we short of EMTs but also fire fighters.”
 Kroll said as the community grows and traffic on I80 increases, so does Shelby fire and Rescue’s call volume. The Shelby department has the second to the most calls in the county. Due the shortage of EMT’s available to respond during the day, the City of Shelby hired a city employee/paramedic to help respond to daytime calls.
 “However, Kroll said, “We still struggle at night.”
  Schiltz said mutual aid is “extremely important” to the Earling department.
 “We all have to work together,” he said. “If we don’t have someone available, hopefully someone else does.”
 Leinen said the Portsmouth Department has an agreement with Persia Fire and Rescue, therefore, both departments are dispatched to calls together. “Normally, we have enough people to answer. We help Persia quite a bit, especially during the day.”
 “Mutual Aid is becoming more and more common. On a structure fire, we will dispatch another department just in case we need the extra help. If the other department is not needed, then we will cancel that department,” Bissen said, noting that Harlan has been able to get an “adequate number” of firefighters and EMTs to respond to most calls.
 With the uncertain future of Medivac Paramedic Ambulance, continuing to provide timely ambulance service in Shelby County has become a priority with local government agencies and area fire and rescue departments.
 “There is township tax money to support fire departments,” Kroll said, “But the ambulance service was never recognized as an essential service so no tax funding was available until recently.”
  Many area fire chiefs noted the amount of training hours required deter some from volunteering.
 “Once some new firefighters realize the commitment it takes to be a firefighter, they just cannot commit the time needed for training and responding to calls,” Bissen said.
 Shelby struggles in getting volunteers to take the required EMT classes. “It is a huge commitment to become a volunteer EMT because of all the training it takes. Plus, every year you have to continue to take additional classes to keep the EMT licenses current,” Kroll said.
 “We volunteer so many hours for training,” Leinen said. “We aren’t being paid,this isn’t a professional job for us. We’re just here to help out.”
 Bissen said,“Responding to 911 calls in our community as a firefighter or EMT will be a lot of time and dedication, but will also be one of the most rewarding things you may ever do in your life.”



Comment Here