N.Y. Rescue Squad Struggles to Find Volunteer EMTs

RENSSELAER FALLS, N.Y. — The Rensselaer Falls Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad joins Waddington as the latest north country ambulance service struggling to find volunteer emergency medical technicians. Chief Jeffrey S. Hammond, who has been a firefighter for close to 30 years, said his biggest fear as chief is losing the village’s ambulance service because of lack of membership. And now, he said, membership is “dangerously low.”

The department is down to four active members after losing four in the last year to retirement and members moving away. That places an exhausting burden on EMTs, who responded to 10 calls last month and more than 100 last year, Mr. Hammond said Friday.

If the squad loses its ambulance service, it will have to rely on departments in Canton or Ogdensburg. The added response time could mean the difference between life and death, Mr. Hammond said.

“It’s about 15 minutes from Canton and 20 minutes from Ogdensburg,” Mr. Hammond said. “You’re looking at doubling that time after you get to the scene, load up and go to the hospital.”

In support of the rescue squad, firefighters regularly serve as drivers for EMTs, but they can’t provide any kind of medical support other than CPR.

Mr. Hammond said he thinks the biggest factor in low membership is the time commitment for training and responding to calls. A typical EMT training course, which is given twice a year, runs close to 90 hours, according to the St. Lawrence County Office of Emergency Services.

“I don’t see anybody wanting to join,” Mr. Hammond said. “We’ve had membership drives and we got very little support, if any, on new membership. But I think there are some people who may join if they are nudged a little bit. Maybe if we are showing that we are opening our doors to new members, people will come up and take an interest in it.”

People interested in joining the fire or ambulance squad can call the fire station at 344-8853 or Mr. Hammond at 344-6618.

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