On May 31, a call went out to the Little Muskingum Volunteer Fire Department to help an elderly man who had fallen in his driveway and could not get up.
Nearly 30 minutes later, after Fearing Township and Salem Township were called, area volunteer fire departments finally had the people to meet the state mandate needed to transport a patient.
"We're understaffed. Basically, all of the departments are understaffed anymore," said Fearing Volunteer Fire Department President Mike Moore, who was on that run.
Unfortunately for area departments, not enough EMTs to meet the state mandate for transport is becoming a far too common occurrence, and it's something they're fighting to resolve.
Even departments like Fearing, which is able to handle roughly 99 percent of its calls due to having small business owners on the department, are finding it difficult to answer every time the tone goes off, Moore said.
Moore said he and his son, who was also on the May 31 run, once even left a family wedding to handle a call.
The staffing issue facing volunteer fire departments
To transport a patient, volunteer fire departments must have a minimum of one Emergency Medical Technician and one first responder. A driver is also needed, which can be a firefighter. It is possible to transport with just an EMT and first responder, but it is usually not done since CPR and advanced medical treatment requires two people with the patient.
Becoming an EMT requires a minimum of 132 hours of training. An additional 40 hours of training are needed within a three year span for a basic EMT.
There are different levels of medical training. First responders are the entry level of medical training that can assist an EMT only. Basic EMT can provide beginning patient treatment. Advanced or intermediate EMTs can begin IVs and provide more treatment. Paramedics can perform operations such as using a defibrillator.
Source: Washington County EMA Director Jeff
Decreasing numbers of volunteers, particularly during the daytime hours, has many departments short of available Emergency Medical Technicians when a call goes out.
"I don't know what the answers are," said Fearing Township Fire Chief Jeff Lauer, who is also the county EMA director. "Definitely more volunteers would help, but we have to understand these calls are 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the service."
By state law, to transport a patient an emergency squad must be staffed by at least one EMT and a first responder. A driver is also needed, although a firefighter can serve in that capacity.
It is permissible by law for an EMT and a first responder to transport a patient with just the two of them, but most departments shy away from that since it requires two people to perform CPR.
The unfortunate thing, Moore said, is that a civilian with no training can come upon the scene of an accident, put the victim in their car and take them to the hospital and be covered under the good Samaritan act, but state statute prohibits fire departments from transporting.
"The really sad part is if you've got one EMT and a driver, we can't transport," Moore lamented. "They could lose their life while we're waiting because our hands are tied."
First responders are the beginning level of certified medical personnel. The next level of training is a basic EMT, followed by an advanced or intermediate EMT and finally a paramedic. With testing fees included, training for an EMT costs roughly $1,000, which is typically paid for by the fire departments.
Even with mutual aid, where multiple fire departments respond on the same call, it can be a challenge to answer the way they'd like for their community, officials said.
"We usually get the run covered," said Lowell-Adams Fire Chief Josh Harris. "It's just sometimes it's not as fast as we'd like it to be."
Lowell-Adams has five paramedics, two advanced EMTs and about 10 basics, but even then can struggle to respond to every call without mutual aid.
"We still have problems ourselves," Harris explained. "It just depends on the time of day for us."
Like Lowell-Adams, Warren Township has been able to answer most calls, but occasionally struggles with the daytime hours.
Warren Township has several shift workers, who can be off on certain days during the week, and a couple EMTs who are retired, explained Warren Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Wile.
"So far we've been able to cover most of our daytime runs. It's kind of hit or miss," Wile said. "We may go through a time period where we'll go a few weeks and hardly have anybody get out."
The inability to find enough volunteers to cover the daytime hours has prompted several county departments to go to a paid, day-time EMS service.
Newport, Devola and Reno all have paid emergency squads during the day-time hours. A levy to support the day-time squad and another levy to fund round-the-clock service in Reno will appear on the November ballot.
The Reno levy to support the day-time squad is a 1-mill levy, operating at an effective rate of 0.92 mills, and will be a renewal. The levy generates $78,862 for the department and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $28.27 over the course of the year.
Figures for the second levy, to support full time squad service, are not available as the department has not determined exactly what the millage will be. The amount will be the balance between what the 1-mill renewal levy brings and the figure anticipated for full time service.
In the March primary, a 3.25 mill levy for round-the-clock service failed by 66 votes. That levy would have raised $293,239 for the department and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $99.53 per year, according to the Washington County Auditor's office.
As more and more departments struggle to get volunteer EMTs, paid squads are becoming increasingly common.
"I can't foresee the future, but it kind of looks like that's the way things are heading," Wile said. "The more people that go to the paid service during the day, the more people are expecting the paid day service."
Rather than going to paid service, most fire chiefs say they would like to see more volunteers.
The time commitment may sound huge as there are more than 130 hours of training needed to become an EMT, but it's spread out over several months so it doesn't require massive concessions on the part of the volunteer, Wile explained.
An additional 40 hours of training are needed within a three year period for an EMT basic. A paramedic is required to have 86 hours of training in the three-year time frame while an intermediate needs 60 and a first responder just 15, according to Ohio Emergency Medical Services.
In the end, the reward for helping others makes all the time of being a volunteer worthwhile, officials said.
"There's nothing better than to go to a scene and get someone out, and know they're going to be alright," Moore said.