AVILLA — If you’re going to have a medical emergency, it might be best to schedule it for the evening.
Of course, no one schedules a medical emergency. But area fire departments are struggling to find volunteers able to leave work to handle such calls in the daytime.
Avilla Fire Chief Chad Geiger is concerned.
So it Orange Township Fire Chief Harold Cummins.
Geiger reported during Wednesday’s Avilla Town Council meeting that his department had 42 calls for service during the month of August. Eight times, there were no volunteers available.
Cummins said twice in the last month or so, his department did not have anyone available for priority 1 medical runs. Priority 1 medical runs are the most serious, involving difficulty breathing, seizures and heart issues.
“There wasn’t anybody around,” Cummins said.
Both said the problems are most severe during the daytime hours when volunteers are working their regular jobs.
“Daytime calls are bad,” Cummins said.
Orange Township has a couple of volunteers during the day, but if their work takes them out of the area…
There are mutual aid agreements between departments. Geiger said in a couple of instances, members of the LaOtto Volunteer Fire Department were able to respond to critical calls that happened in the Avilla area in August.
Cummins’ department has similar agreements.
“We rely on Johnson Township if they can get somebody,” Cummins said. “But they are scarce, too.”
Cummins said it is a struggle to find volunteers who work second or third shift to respond in the daytime. That problems is coupled with the issue of volunteers who can’t leave their regular first shift jobs.
It’s not a new problem.
“It has been that way for the last 6-7 years,” Cummins said.
Two years ago, Cummins changed departmental policy, asking for responses for only Priority 1 calls.
“That’s helped out a lot,” Cummins said.
His department averages 26 or so calls a month.
But that policy shift doesn’t help when the limited help that is available, well, isn’t available.
That’s what has Cummins concerned. Geiger said he is concerned, too.
“We have to work during the day,” he said.
The Albion Fire Department, which has a budget which allows for 20 hours of paid part-time help, so far is still able to respond in the daytime when their pages go off.
But Albion Fire Chief Bob Amber is feeling the pinch, too.
“I fear the day when I can’t get one or two people out the door in a timely manner,” he said. “We’re all hurting.”
The solution? Amber said he’d be a millionaire if he had a definitive answer to that question. But he does know what would help.
“We’ve got to draw interest in young people,” Amber said.
But he admitted that is only a short-term solution. Many volunteers start young, then their participation dwindles as work and family-life commitments start to mount.
“We get them for a short time and we lose them,” Amber said. “We just can’t keep them.”
Amber said Parkview Noble EMS has upped its game in providing four ambulances to the county. But those same four ambulances are frequently tasked with transporting patients from one hospital to another.