Wanted: Volunteers

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 3, 2005

The fate of the Highland Home Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department is questionable.

Due to lack of volunteers and qualified personnel, the department may have to park its ambulances before the end of 2005.

"We're fearing that we're going to have to stop transport services," Fire Chief Richard Jordan said. "We can still run first response and put something on the scene, we've got the vehicles, we'll just have to take the word ambulance off them."

The department, which was established in 1972, currently has only 17 volunteers, five of whom are over the age of 60 and two under 18 years of age. Only three of the volunteers are certified as paramedics and three more are certified as basic EMTs.

The department's only solution is to get more volunteers within the next 10 months.

"Unless we have some people that can work shift work, that are semi-retired or people in the EMS field, and I know there are some in our community, we're not going to be able to continue," Jordan said. "Monday through Friday at any given point or time from say 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. there might or might not be somebody here that can respond. Everything's in danger, but the immediate need, the thing that's most obvious and needed, is the transport service. We have a lot of elderly people in the community."

Another one of the department's biggest problems besides lack of personnel, is having medically trained personnel available during business hours. Of the six medically-trained volunteers only one is available during the day, but is over 60. The other five work out of town.

Without the transport service, Jordan said the department would still be able to respond to fire calls such as structure and woods fires and traffic accidents, but wouldn't be able to transport patients to the hospital after those type misfortunes. He also said it would eliminate transportation of the sick and elderly to the hospital for minor medical treatment.

The department's operator's license for its transport services expires Oct. 31, 2005. Jordan said until that time arrives, the few members the department has on board will be campaigning to sign up additional volunteers.

"We're going to attempt to run transports until at least that period of time," Jordan said. "During that time, we're making our recruiting campaign. We have to have people to continue to operate."

Jordan said without the personnel needed to provide adequate service to the residents of Highland Home, it is not feasible to continue transports. He said the department is not providing a service to the community because of the delays getting an ambulance to a patient.

"When the department is paged, the dispatchers spend five minutes before they realize someone is not available," Jordan said. "We're not doing the community a justice by continuing to operate."

Jordan also said even if the personnel was available, many of them live more than 10 miles from the station and travel time to get to the rescue vehicles could prove costly. He hopes for some new recruits close in proximity with the fire station.

Another reason Jordan believes assistance is needed with the transporting service is because the time it takes to transport patience to Luverne and a lot of time Montgomery. With only a few volunteers, the time is cutting into other duties required to keep the station up and running.

"We're spending so much time that we don't have time to do paper work, write for grant money and maintain the vehicles," Jordan said. "I have a limited amount of time I can spend with the organization. What we're looking for are at least 12 people. If we get 12 people in here with half of them willing to go to school or our licensed, it gives us more time and more available hours so we can run an operation."

The department is willing to reimburse any person's tuition for basic EMT classes or paramedic school once they are with the department for one year.

Tuition for basic EMT classes is about $800 and between $3,500 and $4,000 for paramedics schooling. The department recently implemented this policy after several people finished schooling and never returned.

"We've probably got a list of close to a dozen people that have come in hear talking a good game, wanting to support us, we sign them up and get them in the school and one of two things happens," Jordan said. "Three or four weeks in the school, they decide it's not me and they drop out and the money is non-refundable or we have them come in, go to school, get their license and the day they get licensed we never see them again."

With so many of Highland Home's volunteer fireman over 60 and not many far behind, Jordan is looking for replacements to keep the transporting service thriving for years to come.

"As we retire out we need people to come up, learn the business and replace us," Jordan said.

If help isn't found soon, not only is the transporting service threatened, so is the fire department as a whole.

If you would like to be a volunteer call Jordan at 537-4794, Jim Kull at 537-9610 or Larry White at 537-4249.