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The state needs to help our volunteers

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A couple of weeks ago we reported that the Waddington Volunteer Rescue Squad is having a hard time keeping up with emergency calls because of dwindling membership. On Saturday, we reported that the Rensselaer Falls squad is in the same boat.

I am sure there will be more such reports to come.

Part of the reason, according to the units’ respective chiefs, is the amount of state-mandated training emergency medical technicians have to complete to qualify them to perform life-saving measures on patients. It’s close to 90 hours, and that’s a lot to ask of people who are volunteering their time to help people when they need help the most.

Those volunteers are also juggling lives and families and jobs while responding to calls in the dead of night and at the crack of dawn. They need to complete that training in whatever spare time they have, which isn’t much.

People who put service to others above themselves are a special breed, and that is especially true for fire and rescue personnel. It takes a special person to run toward a burning building rather than away from it, or to rush to the aid of somebody who is on death’s doorstep.

At first I wondered whether the spirit of volunteerism is dying, but there is pretty good evidence that it isn’t. Seeing some rescue squads and fire departments with enough members to do their jobs makes me believe that people who put the welfare of others above themselves are still out there. The communities in which those volunteers live are fortunate that their EMTs have enough time to devote to the training the state says they need.

But it’s pretty likely that others like them who have considered joining their local rescue squad find the time commitment associated with mandated training too daunting. Odds are it’s a deal-breaker for a lot of them.

State lawmakers, recognizing that there are volunteer units having a hard time finding members, have put some tax breaks in place for volunteer firefighters and EMTs to help fire and rescue units keep their existing volunteers and perhaps attract new ones. State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, last week proposed giving a $1,200 income tax credit to volunteers.

That’s a nice gesture, but it’s hardly going to entice more people to join fire and rescue units. It won’t help Waddington and Rensselaer Falls keep their rescue squads.

State lawmakers really need to take a good, hard look at the training requirements and see about streamlining them so volunteers can learn what they need to learn in less time. They need to make it easier for these selfless volunteers to help others as they are naturally compelled to do.

The state should be doing all it can to encourage volunteerism rather than discouraging it through onerous mandates.

If our lawmakers do nothing, the special breed of person it takes to be a volunteer EMT will become a dying breed. And the people who need them will have no one to answer their call for help.

Anyone who wants to learn more about becoming a volunteer EMT or firefighter should contact their local department or the St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Department at 379-2240.

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