10/31/05 — Long hours, new system makes finding rescue volunteers tough

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Long hours, new system makes finding rescue volunteers tough

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on October 31, 2005 1:53 PM

Some of the rescue volunteers in Wayne and Duplin counties disagree about what's causing their rosters to reach an all-time low.

"Come volunteer and spend two nights a week training and give up all your nights and weekends," one volunteer said. "It's a thankless job," another volunteer added.

Rescue volunteers once inspired respect for what they did, but today, that honor has dissipated, said volunteer Capt. Charlie Swinson of Mount Olive's Emergency Medical Service.

The volunteers spent nights in the rescue station up to a year after Wayne County took over EMS operations with paid staffers, Swinson said. The beds were no longer available, so the volunteers slept on the sofas at the far end of the building.

But they rarely go on emergency calls anymore, he said. Swinson said volunteers always run behind others, and they feel they're being pushed to the bottom.

"The only time we are used is on stand-by at fires, ball games and to participate in parades," he said. "Being placed second or third in the system is a heart-breaking thing for those who have been active 15 and 16 years."

Swinson has been a volunteer since 1963. He said volunteers feel they are not needed, and lose interest.

"There's not a shortage," he said. "It's that there's nothing for them."

But down the road in Faison, the volunteers' ambulance is parked side-by-side with the county-owned ambulance. Faison's volunteers and the paid EMTs are a team, Fire and Rescue chief Glen Jernigan said.

His squad was also low on volunteers a couple years ago, and they were afraid they would have to close their doors like those in Warsaw, Kenansville, Wallace and now, Rose Hill and Magnolia, have.

When Rose Hill closed its doors last Friday, the station had only four members left.

When Magnolia announced Thursday morning it would have to close its doors, there were two EMT-basics left and a few medical responders who can only stop bleeding, splint broken bones and give CPR.

The Faison volunteers had family pressures, long training hours required, a lot of calls and their jobs.

"Now, they don't have to get out as much," Jernigan said. "Now you might go a week without a call, but you're not out all night for four or five nights and have to go to work the next day."

He said the paid EMTs came in 2002 and helped relieve the pressure of too many emergency calls for too few volunteers. The paid EMTs would work weekdays and the volunteers nights, weekends and holidays.

But now, many of the volunteers are traveling out of town to other jobs. On some days, only four or five are in town, Jernigan said.

The heavy call load continued with very few volunteers until 2004 when the county started providing paid EMTs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Jernigan said he has 22 rescue volunteers now. He said 10 of the rescue volunteers are also his firefighters. He said his rescue volunteers like taking the second calls at night and on weekends, and when they can, during weekdays.

"It made our response time better," Jernigan said. "It lets us know we have somebody here to cover those times we don't have enough volunteers. As chief, I consider the paid people with the county as my own."

He said a few of his volunteers are "old birds" like him, but he has young volunteers, too.

That's rare today, Duplin EMS Director Curtis Brock said. There used to be 13 volunteer squads in the county. Today, there are five, including Faison and Magnolia, which are the oldest, Chinquapin, Beulaville and Pleasant Grove, which is the youngest. Faison and Pleasant Grove have the strongest squads and the most volunteers.

Brock also has a county-wide roster of about 10 volunteers who are not affiliated with a stationary crew.

"As the volunteers retire, there are no new people coming in," Brock said.

The state has a Rescue Association retirement. After 20 years, volunteers can draw a pension of about $150 a month.

"It's good for the volunteers," Brock said. "And I'd hate to see someone with three years to go losing that because their local squad folded."

Brock said he is thankful for his volunteers. That's how he got his start in EMS.

Volunteers give a lot, especially since their days might not be over once they are off-shift. The paid employees can go home and go to sleep when they get off their shift.

"But probably the day you have a big presentation to make at work will be the day after you were paged out at 1 a.m. and didn't get back until 5 a.m," Brock said.