Emergency Services Volunteers in Short Supply

By Andrea Shiell, County Times

Driving past the Second District Volunteer Fire Department in Valley Lee, the eye is immediately drawn to a large banner straddling the entrance to the facilities, displaying information on volunteer opportunities for fire, rescue squad, EMS, advanced life support and auxiliary positions.

But this is nothing new in St. Mary’s County.

On the other side of town, Rick Greer of the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department said he had even seen members of the Lexington Park Volunteer Rescue Squad trying to recruit volunteers at a local Sheetz gas station.

“That’s going to be the case all over the county,” said Dean Gass from the Leonardtown Volunteer Rescue Squad, who formerly worked with the fire department. “The burnout rate is pretty steep…and the need for more money to pay the bills drives a lot of people away…most of the members that are able to perform at the level we need them are housewives and people in home school,” he said, adding that his department could always use between 20 and 30 more people.

“Everybody in the county is in short supply…every organization out there needs people,” said Dennis Gordge, the president of St. Mary’s County Advanced Life Support Unit, adding that changes in society and the economy had forced many people out of home-bound positions that would afford them opportunities to volunteer.

“Society has changed so much in the 30 or so years I’ve been doing this,” Gordge said, adding that two-income households and a slacking economy were forcing many to work longer hours and volunteer less. He said that some seemed wary of the training requirements as well.

Others argue that training is not as much a hindrance as some might think. “The training requirements are stringent,” said Greer, “but it really depends on how high in the organization you want to go…we have first responders who only need 100 hours of training to get started…and all of this training is provided for free by the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. After receiving the training, many of our volunteer firefighters go on to become paid firefighters for the government, city, or county. ”

Still, Gordge said that a simple lack of education could be to blame for the lack of recruits, noting that many opt out of inquiring because, “so many people think the fire and rescue squads and EMS are paid services. They are not.” His hope is that citizens will still come out to help their neighbors, since, in the end, it is not hard to do.

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