‘Extreme shortage’ of volunteers leads to Rescue Troop deaths, says Surry – Smithfield Times

An ‘extreme shortage’ of volunteers led to the deaths of the Rescue Force, Surry said

Published 14:43 Friday, March 10, 2023

Surry County has issued a statement citing an “extreme shortage” of volunteers for the dissolution of its only voluntary ambulance service.

The Surry Volunteer Rescue Squad, founded 59 years ago, announced in a March 1 public notice published in The Smithfield Times that it would “voluntarily relinquish” its state license on April 9 and had stopped answering calls.

According to the county statement, rescuers answered less than 2% of Surry’s ambulance calls in the past year. The counties of the Isle of Wight and Sussex, which have mutual assistance agreements with Surry, collectively transmit about 20% of Surry’s call volume.

State law requires each county to have a “designated emergency response agency.” Surry’s switch from volunteering to paid emergency medical services has been going on for months.

Superintendent Surry voted last July to designate Surry County Emergency Medical Services — the county’s paid EMS department — as a state-designated agency pending state licensing. SCEMS received its state license in December to provide basic and advanced life support services. Its operators are also now certified in emergency medical response, which allows them to provide first aid instructions to callers over the phone until help arrives.

“Change times have overwhelmed volunteer organizations across the country,” Surry’s statement read.

Any EMS agent who goes out of business is required under the Virginia Administrative Code to send written notice to the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Medical Services at least 90 days in advance, and advertise its intentions in “general circulation newspapers in its service area,” the Times notice read.

According to data shared by Marian Hunter, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, 94 Virginia EMS agency volunteers have changed their status to “out of business” since 1997. The total number makes up 13% of the state’s 688 volunteers. and career EMS agency. Surry is the latest in a three-year wave of statewide volunteer agencies that have severed decades of ties with their local governments or dissolved outright.

According to reporting by The Botetourt Bee, a news outlet covering Botetourt County in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the Blue Ridge Rescue Squad disbanded in 2020 after 40 years, citing a lack of volunteers. The Madison County Eagle, a newspaper based approximately 25 miles north of Charlottesville, reported in 2021 that the Madison superintendent chose to terminate the county’s 22-year partnership with the Madison County Rescue Force “for reasons”, citing a lack of available ambulances. in service. As of November 2021, the Shenandoah Rescue Squad has disbanded and returned its assets to the Shenandoah Volunteer Fire Company, also blaming a lack of volunteers, according to a report by Page Valley News based in Page County.

In 2022, Roanoke-based CBS affiliate WDBJ reported Roanoke County had dissolved the Hollins Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department on the recommendation of auditors. The News & Record, a newspaper covering the Halifax and Mecklenburg areas, later reported earlier this year that the Chase Town Rescue Squad and the Mecklenburg County Rescue and Rescue Troops would be disbanded by July 1, respectively, again citing a lack of volunteers.

“If a particular EMS agent goes ‘going out of business,’ volunteers may still provide services but under local jurisdiction instead of their agent’s individual license,” says Hunter.

State records, he explained, did not show whether any agencies that submitted their state permits had been rearranged under the new county-issued permits.

“The commitment required for hours of training and the need to be more available to answer the increasing calls for service are becoming more and more difficult for people who wish to volunteer,” a Surry County statement read.

According to Hunter, the state’s mandatory time commitment for entry-level emergency medical technician certification increased in 2012 from 121 hours to 154 hours. In 2015, states dropped the 154 hour requirement and left the length of training at the discretion of each program coordinator and supervising physician, although 154 hours remains the state’s recommendation. In 2012, the state also increased the number of continuing education hours from 36 to 40 hours for EMTs to maintain their certification. EMTs have four years to complete 40 hours unless they choose to seek or maintain certification through the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, which is a two-year licensure program.

Paramedic certification, the highest level of EMT competency, is a three-year license in Virginia or bi-annually through the National Registry, with the number of hours of early and continuing education classes left to the discretion of each accredited training program.

According to a previous Times report, in 2018 when Surry County built a $4 million emergency operations center that doubled as a 911 dispatch center and base for rescue teams, Surry had eight paid staff members and 28 volunteers.

The Surry Volunteer Rescue Squad had eight officers average 2.3 hours per week in 2016 and ended the year with a $13,022 surplus according to the nonprofit’s Internal Revenue Service Form 990 in lieu of a tax return. In 2017, it had nine officers each working an average of six hours per week, but ended the year with a deficit of $4,145. In 2018, its nine officers’ average hours per week fell to 1.4 but ended the year with a surplus of $67,322. In 2019, the most recent Form 990, which is listed on the IRS website, has grown to 10 officers averaging 1.9 hours per week and ended the year with a surplus of $192,730.

Remaining volunteer agency officials have not said how many emergency medical technicians remain unpaid. John Seward, a former volunteer who was on the Surry Board of Trustees at the time of groundbreaking, told the Times last week there were “only a few people left”.

County statement notes Surry is working to expand SCEMS beyond paid staff by developing Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERTs.

CERT is a national disaster preparedness training program that teaches fire safety, search and rescue, team organization and medical disaster operations to adult and youth volunteers.

The county is also seeking applicants interested in becoming nationally certified emergency medical technicians and volunteers to serve with SCEMS after completing a county-sponsored EMT course.

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