Slanesville’s rescue squad will close in 7 weeks if it does not get the help it needs —“but nobody here wants that,” Slanesville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company President Jeff Combs and Rescue Chief Jared Shaffer said Saturday.
Slanesville’s ambulance has not answered a call for 2 months, and members of the fire-and-rescue company voted Nov. 4 to end the ambulance service Dec. 31 —unless they get the volunteers needed to start responding again.
The current crisis “wasn’t even on the radar” last year, Combs said. They had been doing well, answering over 90 percent of their calls — but their performance depended too much on one EMT who was taking most of the calls, until he moved on to work as a paramedic.
“We went from near 100-percent success to 100-percent failure,” Combs said.
He pointed out other county rescue squads have the same problem, and could suffer the same 100-percent scratch rate if they lost just one key volunteer. The county’s association of rescue squads, the Hampshire Emergency Medical Services Association, has been asking the county for help with personnel shortages for years.
Most calls in Slanesville are answered by the Augusta rescue squad or a county ambulance now — with anyone transported to a hospital required to pay for the service. The $100 ambulance fee, all of which goes to the county ambulance agency, covers little more than salaries, and equipment and maintenance for ambulance services are expensive.
If the 6 rescue squads close, Combs asked where the money will come from for an all-paid service, given the $100 fee needed to provide 2 ambulances.
He urged people to step up and volunteer.
“That’s the only way,” he said.
People interested in volunteering should stop by the Slanesville Fire and Rescue building (on Route 29 next to the Slanesville General Store) any Monday, when the company schedules training and meetings, or make contact through Facebook.
All volunteers are welcome, though Combs and Shaffer said the rescue squad’s best chance of surviving depends on finding people already living here who have the credentials for immediate service on an ambulance. Many Hampshire County rescue squad EMTs support themselves by working at paid EMT jobs outside the county.
People moving into the area from elsewhere do not appear to be stepping up to volunteer at the same rate as people already living here — perhaps unaccustomed to relying on volunteer fire and rescue services, though volunteer fire and rescue services help keep the cost of living here relatively low.
Shaffer and Combs had the impression that most of the volunteers they have are natives or long-term residents — people who have “been here forever,” true of at least 90 percent of their membership, they said.
Training is expensive — but the company will pay for the courses needed, pass or fail, so long as the volunteer sticks it out to the end. Drop-outs are expected to pay the company back.
The company will “bend over backwards” to help a volunteer in any way they can — including offering rides to training classes if the volunteer lacks a reliable vehicle.
The County Commission indicated at its Oct. 22 meeting that it will stop paying insurance costs for Slanesville, the only assistance the county gives the rescue squad, due to its poor performance in recent months.
Asked whether the county had contacted the rescue squad, Combs and Shaffer said it had not. However, they themselves reached out to ask for some help or ideas, meeting with Hampshire County Emergency Services Agency Director of Operations Terry Puffinburger, with HCESA Director Brian “Tad” Malcolm also present.
They have not received any help yet — though Combs noted “their priority is the entire county, while ours is just Slanesville — we understand.”
Combs and Shaffer reported Saturday that they had just put an ad on Facebook, looking for EMTs. The company had talked about an open house, but it never came together.
Recruitment is new to them, Combs pointed out, adding that “We never had to go out and seek people because people sought us.”