RENSSELAER FALLS – The Rensselaer Falls Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad joins Waddington as the latest north country ambulance service struggling to find volunteer emergency medical technicians.
Chief Jeff S. Hammond, who has served as a firefighter for close to 30 years, said his biggest fear as chief is losing the villages ambulance services due to lack of membership. And right now, he says membership is dangerously low.
The department is down to four active members after losing four in the last year to retirement and members moving away. That places an exhaustive burden on EMTs who responded to 10 calls last month and over 100 total calls last year, Mr. Hammond said Friday.
If the squad loses its ambulance service, it will have to rely on other departments in Canton or Ogdensburg. But the added response time could mean a matter of life and death, Mr. Hammond said.
Its about 15 minutes from Canton and 20 minutes from Ogdensburg, Mr. Hammond said. Youre looking at doubling that time after you get to the scene, load up and go to the hospital.
In support of the rescue squad, firefighters regularly serve as drivers for EMTs, but they cant provide any kind of medical support other than CPR.
We try to get all our firefighters certified in CPR, but its our EMTs that specialize in patient care, Mr. Hammond said. Right now we only have one EMT who is an advanced life support provider, which means they are the person who can administer IVs and drugs.
As an incentive to complete the EMT training course, the course fees are paid by the department. Mr. Hammond said he thinks the biggest factor in low membership is the time commitment to training and responding to calls. A typical EMT training course, which is given twice a year, runs close to 90 hours, according to the St. Lawrence County Office of Emergency Services.
I dont see anybody wanting to join, Mr. Hammond said. Weve had membership drives and we got very little support, if any, on new membership. But I think there are some people who may join if they are nudged a little bit. Maybe if we are showing that we are opening our doors to new members, people will come up and take an interest in it.
While the department is mostly hurting for EMTs, the department is also looking for new firefighters, Mr. Hammond said.
We have an aging fire department, and we need younger members who are willing to take over after they retire, he said.
If anyone is interested in joining the fire or ambulance squad, they can call the fire station at 344-8853 or call Mr. Hammond at 344-6618.