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New Va. Rescue Squad Helps First Responders

RINER, Va. -- It was more than a decade ago when Kelly Walters began to see a need for this Montgomery County community to have a rescue squad of its own.

Then the captain of the Christiansburg Rescue Squad, of which he's been a member for 48 years, Walters saw that the Riner area was growing rapidly. Having a station along Virginia 8 would mean rescue crews could more quickly reach Riner residents, who were having to wait on crews to arrive from Christiansburg, several miles away. Now, the community has its own independent station, three vehicles and a 20-member squad who staff the station daily from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

"Virginia is losing so many rescue squads with budget cuts and lack of volunteers," 2nd Lt. Jessica Roop said. "For a brand-new station with nothing but volunteers to open is amazing."

The squad was established as an independent entity in March after an inspection by the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services. A grand opening celebration was held last month. Before that, it had operated as a substation of the Christiansburg squad since the Riner building was constructed four years ago.

"Having our own rescue squad helps a lot," said Capt. Jason Roop, Jessica Roop's husband.

Before, it would take crews up to 15 minutes to answer a Riner call, he said. Now, the same call would take only five or six minutes because the building is staffed and because squad members live in Riner. If a patient is in cardiac arrest or having a diabetic emergency, Roop said, "time is critical."

To become an independent squad, Riner crew members had to take a vehicle extrication class and become certified to drive an ambulance. The crew had to find a doctor to serve as its operational medical director and recruit what Jason Roop called "a comfortable number" of members. Still, he and other members said, the crew needs more people. As of last week, the squad -- which covers 76.131 of Montgomery County's 389 total square miles -- had answered 144 calls since February, Montgomery County Emergency Services Coordinator Neal Turner said.

"Prior to establishing the squad in Riner, extensive testing was done to determine the need and response times," he said.

Walters said it was a lack of money that kept the Riner squad from being created years sooner. He said the squad's creation has drastically improved response times to Riner residents at night and on weekends, but that "sometimes in the daytime it's slow, just like it is here."

If the Riner squad isn't available, calls there will still be answered by the Christiansburg squad. In Christiansburg, he said, calls sometimes are answered by Blacksburg Rescue Squad members if no one from Christiansburg is available.

"The membership is gradually picking up," he said of the Riner squad.

Crew members said they try to cover daytime calls as best they can, but with most of them working daytime jobs, it can be difficult for them to respond. Walters said that although he knows several people who are certified emergency medical technicians, it's difficult to find people who will join a squad.

"It's a big commitment. It takes a lot of time," he said. "Our 20 volunteers have busted their tails," Jessica Roop said. "We're fighting tooth and nail to keep it running."

She and Jason Roop said their commitment to the squad can be stressful at times, but is worth it because they enjoy giving back to the community.

"There may be a time when we save somebody's life or we make a difference," Jason Roop said. "That makes it all worthwhile."

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