Volunteer ambulance services struggle to survive in Northwestern WisconsinNorthwestern Wisconsin ambulance services are putting out a call for volunteers. In a few cases, it means the difference between having local first responders or having to wait twice as long for an outside service to respond.
By: Mike Simonson, Wisconsin Public Radio
Northwestern Wisconsin ambulance services are putting out a call for volunteers. In a few cases, it means the difference between having local first responders or having to wait twice as long for an outside service to respond.
Mary Ann Schoch is one of four Emergency Medical Technicians in the Glidden Ambulance Service that serve remote places like Jacobs, Peeksville, Gordon and Shanagolden. So Schoch said the volunteer EMTs are in each other’s hip pocket — “because we’re telling each other where we are all the time.”
“If I’m going to the grocery store, I’m e-mailing (another EMT): ‘I’m going to the grocery store. I’ll be out of town two hours.’ ”
Schoch has been a volunteer EMT since 1975. Now as director of the all-volunteer Glidden Ambulance Service, she said their situation is dire.
Either they double their volunteer numbers, or they shut down.
“We don’t have young people staying here anymore,” she said. “They’re moving away. They’re going to bigger cities to get jobs or going to school to become educated and do things away from us.”
Last month, the ambulance service called an emergency town meeting. Twenty-five people showed up in the Jacobs Town Hall. Gordon Town Chairman Doug Thorpe said that’s not enough.
“I don’t understand it,” Thorpe said. “I mean, this is something that affects every single person and every single family in our four townships. I mean, this is everybody. And 25 people show up? And then they’ll all be crying if this goes away.”
If the volunteer ambulance service disappears, the townships can contract with nearby Mellen and Park Falls. But Thorpe said that’s expensive and it could double response time.
“If it’s going to take a half an hour to an hour for an ambulance to get here, maybe I should move somewhere closer to where I can get to a hospital in 10 minutes,” he said. “If I have a heart attack … the first hour is golden, they say, right? They ain’t never going to get there in an hour if it takes 45 minutes or a half-hour for an ambulance to get here.”
Last year, the Glidden Ambulance Service made 63 emergency calls. Schoch said the norm used to be 150. But like many rural areas, their population is declining.
About two-thirds of Wisconsin’s 808 fire departments and ambulance services rely on volunteers. Wisconsin EMT Coordinator Ray Lemke said most of them are holding their own, but some are like Glidden, struggling to recruit volunteers.
“As times change and as attitudes change, sometimes we see the spirit of volunteerism is diminished a little bit about the state,” Lemke said. “Sometimes it waxes and wanes. We have done some interventions with them as far as providing some tactical and technical assistance out of our office here to assist those services, if there are things that we can do.”
Lemke suggested that the Glidden Ambulance Service hold a community event and let people know they need help.
Working as a volunteer EMT does take commitment. Several hours of training are required to be certified as an EMT, and a refresher course is mandatory every two years.
At the meeting at Jacobs Town Hall, six people signed up for certification training. Gary Eder, 29, of Glidden said he’ll do what it takes.
“If this ambulance service falls apart, this town is going to go with it,” Eder said. “I mean, it’s one of the last things holding this community together because without
it, everybody’s going to leave to get health care elsewhere.”
Brandon Dockerty’s dad needed the ambulance recently. So the 30-year-old is signing up, too. “Because they need it up here. What are they going to do if they lose it?”
If four of the six new volunteers pass the training and become certified by September, the Glidden Ambulance Service will continue to operate.