At a time of emergency

Volunteers are in short supply

Posted 12/31/69

Emergencies happen anytime, day or night. In particular, a fire or a medical issue requiring immediate action and transportation can happen to all of us. 

Traditionally in rural areas, …

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At a time of emergency

Volunteers are in short supply


Emergencies happen anytime, day or night. In particular, a fire or a medical issue requiring immediate action and transportation can happen to all of us. 

Traditionally in rural areas, these needs were met by concerned citizens with a great sense of service who were willing to run out on their family and/or work obligations to serve as volunteers to help protect their neighbors whenever the fire or ambulance put out the call. 

At a time when most people worked in the community, volunteers were able to drop what they were doing and deal with the emergency at hand. But now, as people are commuting to jobs further afield, volunteers able to respond, particularly during the daytime hours, has become a critical shortage.

Additionally, with new technology and new laws developing at a fast pace, the burden on the volunteers has grown. Volunteers are called upon for additional hours of training, fundraising, maintenance, repair, public image (parades) and meetings.

On top of all this, many devoted members are aging out of the line of duty. And there is a lack of young people willing or able to take on the time constraints needed to join an emergency services corps.

Those in the fire and EMS services, particularly Stan Pratt, past chief of Honesdale Fire Company, say that new residents from urban areas where paid emergency service personnel staffed the rigs and engines don’t understand the costs involved that would need to be passed on to the tax base to ensure coverage. 

In many cases, the all-volunteer companies ensure that property taxes remain low. Pratt recalls a time some 15 years ago when he was asked by the Honesdale Borough Council what the fire department was providing to the borough. He sat down and worked out the figures.

“If the Honesdale Fire Department came down and parked their firetrucks in your parking lot and said, ‘Here, you run them,’ it would cost $3.4 million dollars a year (based on a 15-year amortization on equipment). At that time, the Honesdale Borough’s budget was under $1 million. I’m not sure what that figure would be in today’s dollars,” he said.

To encourage participation, Pratt advocates for a state or county volunteer retention program rather than recruitment. This, he says, would develop a workforce base if volunteer services eventually give way to paid municipal or county departments. 

Lackawaxen Township has done just that. The township offers a stipend of up to $250 for fire/ambulance volunteers who meet certain minimum standards in order to qualify, according to Kathy Wargo at Lackawaxen Ambulance. Dave Ruby, Milford Borough Office of Emergency Management Coordinator, said that Dingman Township offers a similar program. 

Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith said that there are  ongoing conversations with Wayne County’s volunteer fire and ambulance companies to establish a similar program with financial incentives for volunteers on a county-wide level.

“You have to be careful for what you ask for,” Smith points out, “You don’t want 250 new volunteers showing up just to take advantage of an incentive. The fire and ambulance companies function as a team when training and showing up at an emergency scene. There is a tremendous amount of trust placed and expected in return of every member; that is part of becoming a volunteer. It doesn’t happen over night, and it takes a lot of work.” 

Kenny Batzel, a volunteer with White Mills Fire and Ambulance reported that fire department and ambulance calls average about 1,500 calls per year, with 90 percent or more of those being ambulance calls. White Mills Ambulance is financially supported by Palmyra Township and Texas Township, as well as patients’ insurance billing. Their primary coverage area includes four townships, with aid to two additional townships when requested. Their catchment area includes Milford, Route 84, Hamlin and Gouldsboro.

“We are in the process of going paid,” Batzel said. “We have one EMT right now. We’ve got to start out small to see if it works. Our volunteers are getting beat up pretty good.” He also said that initiating a paid service does not reduce the need for volunteers. Paid positions free up the volunteers whose role they assume and those volunteers fulfill other duties within the department. “We have a second ambulance. The second ambulance will go out on volunteer, and I think as of right now, the weekends are going to be volunteer, too.” Paid service will be during weekday business hours when most of the calls occur.

Pike County Office of Emergency Management Director Tim Knapp confirmed that the county match program initiated in January 2022 makes approximately $2.3 million dollars available to Pike County municipalities via a matching grant to help fund ambulance service coverage that doubles a municipality’s annual EMS contribution up to a maximum of two mills. The program has been successful in keeping the county covered with paid ambulance service and has significantly reduced response time. Knapp also noted that the Pike County Training Center provides training to all Pike County fire companies at no charge.

If you’re not up for the heat of the moment, volunteer opportunities continue when the crews get back to the station. Hose needs to be racked, engine rooms need to be swept and linens need to be changed. Fundraising is a year-round job. There’s something for everyone who has the time and the inclination to provide life-saving service to their community. Beyond the satisfaction of helping friends and neighbors, the rewards will give you much-needed skills, training for how to react to emergencies and a sense of community. All essential services in this rural landscape.


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