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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Rescue Squads Agree To Seek County Organization

Volunteer organizations in Wisconsin, and probably all across the nation are having trouble recruiting enough members to handle all their responsibilities. Because a controversy that erupted last year led to the departure of several very active members, Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc has been particularly hard-hit.

As a result, they called a special meeting for 3 p.m. Sunday, April 2, and invited the entire community, as well as members of other area squads, to attend. Only about 35 people turned out, most of them representing rescue squads in northern Marinette County, including Wausaukee, Crivitz, Pembine, Silver Cliff. Also on hand was Ray Lemke of Madison, Regional EMS Coordinator for Wisconsin Department of Health Services' Districts 1, 2 and 3, which includes Marinette County.

All squads represented at the meeting are facing difficulties recruiting volunteers, and all have faced various difficulties when members of one squad fill in for another. Some of the difficulties appear to arise from state regulations, and some from insurance issues, particularly the costs and complications of Workmen's Comp insurance.

Before the meeting adjourned, there was general agreement that the squads should join together in an efforts to get Marinette County Board to help them resolve some of their issues, perhaps by creating and funding a county-wide emergency rescue squad organization.

Spokesmen for the various squads made tentative plans to talk to their County Board supervisors individually, and to address County Board as a whole, hopefully during time for public comment at the board meeting on Tuesday, April 18 in Marinette.

Wausaukee Rescue Squad, Inc. President Tom Arthur opened Sunday's meeting by explaining that because of some big issues in the past year, their squad had found it necessary to part company with some of their most active members. He said they recently adopted some by-law revisions to prevent any one family from having too much power in the future, which will resolve part of the problem they formerly had.

They have advertised, and have made some recruitment attempts, but new members are hard to find. Their ranks have not been replenished. Currently the Wausaukee squad has only 10 active members attempting to provide services 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The 10 members include four drivers, one First Responder and five EMTs. Until very recently, the squad ambulance couldn't run without two EMTs aboard. Now, provided some special rules are followed, rural squads can run with one EMT, provided that individual stays at the side of the patient.

Of Wausaukee's 10 total active members, three or four work every day during the week. "Everybody is spread very thin," Arthur said, adding that he personally puts in 40 hours per week at his job and then comes home to be on call over the weekend, from Friday night to Monday morning. "I don't ever get a break," he declared.

Arthur thanked Crivitz and Pembine rescue squads and the Bay Area Medical Center Emergency Response team for filling in when Wausaukee cannot get enough members to cover.

He also thanked the boards of the municipalities they serve - the towns of Wausaukee, Wagner and Amberg and the village of Wausaukee, "for being very helpful in getting us to where we are today."

He said the squad has advertised for new members, but "there are not a lot of people in the community knocking at our door."

He had hoped some people who might serve would attend that evening's meeting in response to their warning to the community that lack of new members was putting the squad's ability to continue its lifesaving mission to the communities at risk.

However, community response was small, but Arthur expressed hope that those present could come up with ideas on how to attract members, how to approach the state and the county for help, and "how to get good, quality people in the door."

Long hours of training are required for responders, particularly for Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) status. Volunteers are often reluctant to invest the time required unless they know they will be a good fit, and squads are often reluctant to provide training for people they believe will just go on to paying jobs elsewhere once they have earned certification.

The squad provide "ride-along" time for applicants to meet other squad members and see how their operations work before investing the time and effort required to become full members. There also must be a satisfactory background check, and an agreement of prospective members to complete the required trainings. Their squad meets regularly at 7 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month at its headquarters in the Village of Wausaukee.

Efforts are underway by many squad officials, particularly in rural areas, to get some of the state regulations eased. The state legislature currently is considering five laws introduced at the behest of volunteer groups across the state. One recently adopted rule change helps by allowing rescue squads that serve very rural areas to run with one EMT aboard, where they used to require two. That helps, at least a bit.

Kevin Kwasny, vice president of the Wausaukee Rescue Squad Board of Directors, is also the person in charge of training for squad members. He also has ben putting in long hours at work, and then long hours on call for the squad. He said responders spend about three hours on every call that requires a trip to the hospital.

He explained First Responder training takes 80 hours to complete, and the EMT class calls for 196 hours of training. Now there is a transition class, between First Responder and EMT, that can be completed in 116 hours, and that time counts toward the EMT certification if the person goes on. In each course, there is additional time needed for study, and travel back and forth.

A representative of the Pembine area wondered why they do not use more First Responders, but Kwasny said to keep their license they need EMTs as well.

Bob Flaws, one of the founding members of the Wausaukee Rescue Squad, declared the days of the volunteer are dead. He said they tried getting high school students to take the EMT training. You must be 18 to serve on the squad, which would make many seniors eligible. But, he added, "once they get out of high school, they're gone!" He agreed that even though the young graduates may go to work in the city, some may come back to do squad service on weekends.

Pay for the volunteer members varies from squad to squad, as do charges, if any, for services. Most squads pay members something for actual runs, but in most cases there is no pay for time spent on call or for training.

Flaws suggested that people on "entitlement" programs who cannot otherwise afford to go to school, should be encouraged to take EMS training since the state pays for it, it would allow them to give something back to the community, and the training would prepare them for an eventual career as a paramedic.

There was question from a member of the audience as to whether the state would pay for the classes, since they pay only for education that will lead to a paying job, and being an EMT is volunteer. The state does pay for EMT classes in the school.

Flaws noted people were present from every rescue squad in the area, "but very few from the community."

Another member of Wausaukee Rescue Squad felt perhaps some people do not come forward because they feel the job involves "a lot of blood and gore," which they would not be able to handle. She said she too thought that, but found out she was wrong. The great majority of their calls are for people who may be having a stroke or heart attack or who are simply not feeling well. They may or may not need to be transported to the hospital, but few of the calls involve first aid for bleeding wounds, for example.

However, another person on hand cautioned they need to be prepared for those in any case.

Arthur said he and other officers of the Wausaukee squad recently met for three to four hours with two people from the state, seeking ideas for solving their membership crisis. Among recommendations were that they become more visible by addressing student gatherings, church groups, scouts, etc., and by having representatives at community events.

Squad member Jim Brien is working on community awareness issues, but much of that also requires time from already busy squad members.

A member of the press suggested they should submit monthly reports to the newspaper, not naming the individuals who needed their services, but the number of calls they had, what type of emergency they were for, and perhaps names of the squad members who responded.

Kwasny suggested people might be willing to settle for less squad coverage, "until the big tragedy happens" and also observed that people today are far more willing to commit their money than their time. He said many of the new state regulations make it hard for volunteers, and the interests of the paid emergency medical services "aren't always the same as ours."

He repeated, "State laws put added stress on volunteer members who are just interested in helping the community." He said ideas for recruitment are good, but that too puts added time requirements on the short handed squad.

Then came another comment that volunteers are a dying breed, and the suggestion that the county may have to come through to fill the gap.

Kwasny noted Door County has a county-wide Emergency Medical Service. Again noting the lack of members to serve the Wausaukee Squad, he declared,"We are just one injury, one accident, away from not being able to provide service!"

There was another comment that if emergency response has to go to a paid agency,"it's going to cost everybody a whole lot!"

Currently most squads in Marinette County are owned by the community they serve, or are private non-profit corporations created within the community.

Donations allow the squads to buy equipment their areas most likely would not otherwise have, but they do not provide personnel. There were comments that this is a very large, sparsely populated county, and a centralized service might not provide the best coverage for some areas. There seemed to be a general belief that if the county got involved there would have to be a single EMS unit for the entire county.

Brien reported the state had done a study of rescue squad problems, and had come up with a few proposed solutions aimed to ease at least some of them. There are currently five bills going through Madison's committee system right now. One would allow setting up EMS districts that would function pretty much in the same manner as Lake Districts.

Brien and others agreed that Workmen's Compensation is a huge impediment for mutual squads and for squad members willing to volunteer for more than one squad. Other problems stem from having different protocols and from having equipment placed differently in the various squad vehicles.

There was talk that squad members are referred to as volunteers, yet they sometimes are heard discussing pay for calls, which can be confusing for the public.

Vicki Delacki, a member of the Silver Cliff Squad, said their members are paid only if they go on an actual call. There were 80 actual calls last year. Squad members are getting older, but contributions help them buy equipment that makes it possible for elderly members to handle things like lifting patients.

She noted also that young people trained in high school do indeed often move out of the community, but they also often come back to help the squad on weekends.

Last year she spent 220 hours on call, and was paid a total of $36.

Lynn Hickey, Town of Wagner chair and member of Wausaukee Rescue Squad, told of a statewide emergency management conference she recently attended at which the conversation turned to response time to EMS calls. She said people in cities told her their response time averages five to six minutes, and thought she was joking when she told them here it might be an hour or more, depending on location. Even the professional intercept from Bay Area Medical Center can take 15 to 20 minutes to intercept the local squad. She said she for one would not mind paying higher taxes if it meant better emergency medical services for everyone.

"We can't just sit and let it go on as is," Flaws urged. "We need to go to the county and don't take "no' for an answer!" He said they should take one member from each squad who knows what's going on, as well as one representative of each of the municipalities they serve and schedule a meeting with the county. He said by law, municipalities and the county must provide emergency medical services.

There was some concern about what becomes of assets the various squads have collected from donors in their communities if a single county squad becomes a reality, as well as more discussion on squads being jointly dispatched by the county's 911 communications system.

Talk returned to getting high school kids interested and trained and Flaws said he talked last week with the Wausaukee School District Administrator and they will be starting EMT classes at the high school.

May is national EMT Month, and there was talk of ways to publicize the need for more EMTs.

A Crivitz Squad representative said their membership includes registered nurses, paramedics and soon they will have one PA on the roster. They have numerous events planned for EMS Week, which ends on Memorial Day weekend, the last Saturday of May.

This led to discussion on how many join because of public events, and how many because of personal contacts, because a squad member reached out to them. Nevertheless, there was agreement that public relations is important.

There was brief talk of squad representation at the county fair in Wausaukee, and everyone agrees the squads do not have enough members to work a booth there and carry out their needed coverage.

Lemke said he travels the state, and the problems being talked about in Wausaukee are common in various levels in many areas of the state. He said after 911 there was a jump in the number of volunteers, but now it has dropped off again.

Flaws asked him about a county system. Lemke said in one county it does work. "Will it work here? We'll see."

He suggested if the individual squads formed a regional or county association they might be able to tax for their services, and also they might be able to get Workman's Comp under an umbrella coverage. He said there are ways the county could get around levy limit laws if they opt to provide a tax-supported county wide EMS service.

Talk returned to pay for volunteers, and Wausaukee Village President Hilbert "Slug" Radtke declared the squads need to explain to officials how that works. He said people are upset when they're told it's volunteer work and then learn that members are paid. "Don't say you're volunteers, when you get minimal pay!" he urged. He was told on the Wausaukee Squad EMTs get $40 per call regardless of time spent. EMRs get $35 per call, drivers get $30, and First Responders get $5, if they do not need to stay with the ambulance.

Town of Wausaukee Supervisor Dave Tomasino declared he had been listening to the talk for nearly an hour and a half, "and I haven't heard one thing about how we're going to protect the citizens of Marinette County!" He said the county could take over, as Milwaukee did when it consolidated five fire departments. He noted the Town of Wausaukee currently pays $5,400 toward the Rescue Squad, and if there were a county entity, that contribution would likely go to them. He said town, village, county and city governments have a legal obligation to protect their citizens"."We have to do it." And, he urged, "Tell the state to get rid of that d" National Registry and have a state exam and you'll have a lot more EMTs!"

A representative of the Pembine squad said back when they were getting organized they had the town boards look at all their operations, and suggested they provide that same information to their county supervisors. However, he said his supervisor had told him to call state legislators.

Lemke said 78 percent of applicants who take the EMT basic exam pass it and get certification."We need a process to be sure workers are properly educated to protect the public," he declared.

"This isn't just happening in Wausaukee, it's happening all over," Hickey reminded him.

Delacki declared there would no longer be a shortage of volunteers ""if only there was a way to get each person in the community to understand the feeling that we get when we help someone"the feeling that we get from doing things that are good for our community!"

A lady in the audience said she was at the meeting because four years Rescue Squad members saved her life. She said she wanted to thank someone, but didn't even know who to thank. She suggested the squads send a signed follow up card with names of those who responded, names saying glad we could help, and asking about ways they could have done better.

A squad volunteer said they do not always have the satisfaction of finding out how a call came out, and there was talk about remedying that also.

Ron Holmes, Town of Amberg supervisor, said a county wide organization might be a good idea, "but it would be put to better use than what you've got now." He suggested they might want to look at standardizing pay throughout the county. Squads can bill for calls, and they might also want to look at that on a county-wide basis.

He added if the squads get a proposal together, they should get it to the town boards, and promised, "Then we'll ask to get on the County Board agenda at public comment time. We'll also take it to our local County Board representative." He said as to raising taxes to provide a fully paid squad, "Some things we can raise the levy for, but we'd get lynched for it!"


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