In need: County has alarming volunteer firefighter shortage

Volunteer emergency medical services in rural areas such as Warren County are vital.

These services rely on manpower. With a population that is shrinking and aging, manpower is something local and state EMS agencies are struggling mightily with.

Clarendon Volunteer Firefighter and County Intergovernmental Co-op (COG) Fire Committee member Paul Pascuzzi addressed local officials regarding this issue during this week’s Warren COG (Council of Governments) meeting.

“We are facing a shortage of individuals that are able or willing to participate in volunteer services,” he said. “I’m a numbers guy, and I have some numbers to show you that I think will get your attention.”

Pascuzzi read excerpts of an article from “Townships Today” that addressed the volunteer EMS issue the state is facing.

The article listed the following facts:

¯ EMS volunteers (Firefighters and EMTs) in the state have dropped from over 300,000 to below 50,000;

¯ 75 percent of volunteer agencies in the state are struggling with manpower;

¯ The average age for EMS volunteers in the state is over 50 years old.

Pascuzzi also shared dispatch information from Warren County in 2017 and the first half of 2018.

The information compiled listed all 19 volunteer agencies in the county, with numbers in the following categories: number of dispatches, the number of dispatches that took more than 10 minutes to be responded to, the number of calls that were not responded to, the number of dropped calls, the percentage of dropped calls, and the percentage of calls not responded to.

The numbers showed the manpower issue has hit home in the county.

In 2017, 1,595 of 3,551 (44.9%) volunteer EMS calls in the county were dropped (took more than 10 minutes to be responded to by the first agency called, or were not responded to by the first agency).

The numbers have worsened a bit over the first half of this year, as 814 of 1773 (45.91%) of calls have been dropped.

The City of Warren Fire Department, which is made up of paid responders, has drop rates of less than one percent in both years. Seven volunteer departments in the county had drop rates of over 50 percent in 2017, and four are higher than 60 percent so far this year.

These facts show that the lack of volunteers problem is real, and projects to worsen if it is not addressed in the near future.

“The numbers reflect an issue we know that we’ve had for quite some time now,” Pascuzzi said. “There are times that people in the county are waiting 45 minutes for an EMS response. Often times, the city (Warren) has to respond to calls (outside the city) in the county. This is something we aren’t comfortable with and want to address. At some point, we as municipal officials need to say enough is enough.”

While several bills in both the PA House and Senate have been proposed to help address this issue, none have advanced past preliminary stages.

“We can’t afford to sit and wait for the state to do something,” said Joe Scully of Glade Township. “Many of us here will be dead and gone before that happens.”

Pascuzzi agreed.

“If we, the local officials, wait around for the state, we are misled,” he said.

Options to address the issue were discussed, including the recruitment of new, young volunteers. Multiple officials mentioned a lack of willingness to volunteer by young adults.

“That’s part of it, sure, but go out and look around your neighborhood,” Pascuzzi said. “The youth isn’t there. We don’t have them.”

Another issue is the rigorous training prospective EMTs are forced to undergo.

“Lots of EMTs around here have quit or retired because of the training or re-training they have to do,” Scully said. “Where do we have to go to get that changed?”

Arden Knapp, Pleasant Township Supervisor, agreed.

“The national standard has killed a lot of interest in becoming an EMT,” he said. “I think what they have to go through turns away a lot of candidates.”

Pascuzzi reported to the COG that the Clarendon VFD will be working with EmergyCare to provide a free EMT training service for interested county residents. Six Clarendon residents are currently signed up, and Pascuzzi says he hopes to get five or six more signed up.

“We need EMTs, and we know that,” he said. “The first step is to get people signed up to start the training.”