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From the Track

National EMS Week

Kip Hamilton

(6/2012) Who knows what week it was May 20-26th? No, it wasn’t National Week before Memorial Day Weekend Week. It was National EMS Week when we all stop to reflect on the Emergency Medical responders across the country who make a difference every day. When your loved one is lying unconscious on your kitchen floor and you don’t know what to do, these are the folks who come when you call for help.

Fairfield Fire & EMS held their annual EMS Open House on Sunday, May 20th and invited the members of their community to come and spend a fun afternoon getting a close-up view of how they can help when you call. The situation at the Fairfield fire and ambulance companies is pretty typical for Adams Co., but for those of you from Frederick County, it might seem unfamiliar.

Unlike Frederick Co., which runs a county-wide Department of Fire & Rescue Services which is staffed around the clock by professional firefighter/EMTs and supported by the residents’ tax dollars, the fire and EMS services in Adams Co. are almost 100% volunteer-provided.

Fairfield Fire & EMS is a volunteer department. In order to provide medical coverage during the day when almost all of the volunteer members are out of town at work, they have two paid EMTs who man a split shift covering from 6 in the morning until 6 at night. These paid crew members, however, are 100% paid for by the company’s fundraising activities.

Many people don’t realize that, unlike Frederick County departments, Fairfield receives no financial support directly from local income taxes what-so-ever. When you call 911 in Fairfield or Carroll Valley (or any of the other 3-4 municipalities that Fairfield serves) at 2:00 in the morning, the dedicated volunteers that you’ll be glad to see when they arrive were all at home in bed when you called. This scenario played out about 1,000 times last year when they ran close to 800 ambulance calls and over 200 fire calls. They train. They equip. They stand-by. They run calls…all at no cost to the residents they serve. They rely totally on their fund-raising, donations and reimbursements for ambulance transports for their economic survival. Their service is a gift to their community.

Why do they do this?, you ask. We’re not sure, really. But we’re sure glad they do!

They are, however, experiencing the same problem that almost every other volunteer group is having to contend with, whether scouts, civic organizations, church groups…it effects them all, and that is a falling off of their new members.

Just as recently as 40-50 years ago, there was a strong sense of community and people volunteered to perform all manner of tasks for each other. Things were a lot simpler then. Typically, only one parent had to work outside the home; the jobs were closer to the home; there weren’t as many demands on the family’s precious time as we have now. People had the time, the energy, the mindset to pitch in with their neighbors to get something done. With regard to the fire department and ambulance companies, things were also very different than now; it was also much simpler for them then. If you knew which end of the hose the water came out or could get someone onto a stretcher, you were good to go.

These days, because of national standards for training and safety, the volunteers are trained to the same levels of proficiency as the professionals are…in some cases they go through the training academies together. As you might imagine, this represents a tremendous burden to the volunteer today just in terms of training time. For example, the latest requirements to be trained as an EMT in PA will require 240 hours of instruction. This is a huge commitment for most people and for many, it simply is just not doable. If one does have the time, they’ll then need to come up with the $500 for the tuition and the gas money for the 60 or so roundtrips to the class. And, it is the same for the firefighters who are starting out, only there are more classes for them to take. It’s no wonder that the departments across the country are having staffing issues.

But, volunteer emergency providers are vital to a community. Not to trivialize the valuable mission they perform, but If the ladies group at church has a reduction in members, there are fewer bake sales. If the volunteer fire & rescue company loses too many members, people can die.

No problem, you say. We’ll just thank the volunteers for their years of dedicated service and replace them with a paid department like Frederick has. ‘Sounds easy enough, but let’s take a look at that. Currently Fairfield’s annual operating budget is in the area of $700K… and remember, it is a volunteer station. Their buildings are paid for. All of their trucks and equipment are paid for, except one, and they have a relatively small payroll. If you disregard the two - four million bucks for the new station house and the two - three million bucks for the new apparatus and equipment, and the 1.5 million bucks annually to pay a 27/4 professional crew, just the $700K alone represents an annual increase in resident’s taxes of hundreds of dollars. The total bill to the Fairfield and Carroll Valley residents to replace the volunteers with paid crews is simply an economic impossibility…especially now in today’s economy.

So what’s the answer? The answer is to support our local volunteers! There are so many things they could use some help with that don’t involve running into burning buildings! In fact, there is a long list on the "How YOU can help" tab on their website, .

It’s funny…our current government is involved in so many things they have no Constitutional authority to be doing, yet you could certainly put providing emergency services on the list of things they should be doing and in the case of Fairfield Fire & EMS, they’re not!

So, in the spirit of National EMS week, please take a minute to recognize and support our dedicated volunteers and if you can make the sacrifice, join them in their service to their neighbors.

Read other articles by Kip Hamilton