As years go on, the service provided by volunteer first responders in rural Wisconsin is slowly decreasing.
These volunteers are known as emergency medical technicians, or EMTs. An EMT is a first responder to emergencies such as car accidents, traumas, heart attacks and childbirth.
The volunteer EMTs, which many rural areas depend upon, have a large set of responsibilities, all of which is done without pay.
As of Jan. 2017, there were 425 total ambulance services available in the state. Volunteer EMTs make up 75 percent of those ambulance services, while 25 percent are actually responsible for responding to emergencies.
To counter this growing issue, Wisconsin lawmakers are trying to create a new system for these responders. Three bills written by state Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, were composed to improve the number of rural area first responders.
Wisconsin Public Radio reported that, “Under the proposals, EMTs would have an additional year to be re-certified.”
This means volunteers would also be responsible for logging between 40 to 1,000 hours of class time, on-the-job training and an additional year to re-certify.
This could take volunteers up to three years to become fully certified. This raises concerns that the extended time period would lead to lower training expectations among the program.
Training in the EMT program can be quite taxing, especially for people that have jobs as well as families to support. Volunteer EMTs are always on call, including weekends and holidays.
Joe Alf, Township Fire Department Chief of Rescue Services, said “Because of the time commitment and cost to be certified this is a big reason why rural areas are losing volunteers.”
Lisa Wolosek, student medical assistant at Mid- State Technical College said, “I believe at this point, if these people are in the program from nine months up to three years they should be getting paid for all the effort. They are doing lifesaving work, and this would mean no need for volunteer EMT services.”
“Many of these people that are going through the program to be certified are of working income, and use so much of their time and effort. They should be paid for their contribution. But some personally do this out of selflessness and want to give back to the area,” said Wolosek.
With more stringent requirements for volunteer EMT certification, fewer people may be able to dedicate the time to become certified. This problem could reach a critical peak in the next few years, putting the rural communities which rely upon volunteers at risk.