New law may enhance ambulance efficiency

COLUMBUS New legislation is aimed at allowing greater efficiency and better response time among emergency responders.

Ambulances responding to emergency calls may now head out with only the driver aboard.

Although ambulances will still be staffed with at least two people when transporting patients, the new law allows first responders to reach a scene faster. It is intended to benefit small, rural departments due to their reliance on volunteerism.

Keene Barnett, a firefighter at the Neffs department who also serves as a volunteer firefighter at Shadyside, said the issue had never arose with their crews. Shadyside’s fire department was formed in the 1930s and its firefighters have always required certification in basic fire and EMT training.

“We’re dual-trained,” he said, adding that he does not believe the new legislation will cause any alteration in practice.

However, he noted the necessary training and education is demanding and discourages would-be volunteers. He added that about 100 hours are required to attain EMT status, with 40 hours continuing education. Meanwhile, firefighters are called on to have 36 hours of basic classes and 56 hours of continuing education.

Economic issues have meant many people need to take multiple jobs, leaving little time for would be volunteers to undergo all the training required to wear the firefighter’s helmet.

Barnett said the Shadyside department currently runs at 22 volunteers with a capacity for 50.

“We’re seeing a slow reduction in volunteers,” said Barnett, who joined in 2003.

“Volunteer firefighting is a dying phase because of the continuing education,” he said. “Nobody wants to do it. Nobody wants to take the time. It’s a lot of commitment. It takes a lot of training, a lot of dedication to do it.”

Jeff Gazdik, Barton squad captain, said the law would mean their EMTs could respond to a call from one person. Any other EMTs near the site of the accident could travel directly there.

He added that his department was doing well in terms of volunteers.

“The daytime hurts us. That’s when a lot of members work,” he said. “We’re like everyone else. We could always use new volunteers.

Matt Otto, chief of the Wolfhurst Fire Department, said the law could benefit his area.

“You can transport with one EMT and one first responder,” he said, adding that the department has held some of the first local classes for first responders. “It allows us to respond to calls and transport people to a hospital with an EMT in the back. It lets us respond quickly. It’s been relatively good for the fire department.”

He added that the continuing education requirements prove a challenge.

“Continuing education requirements don’t ever go down. They always go up,” he said. “It’s tough to have a life and try to do that. You’ve got to be dedicated, and the people who do that are always dedicated. We’ve struggled, just like every volunteer fire department in these difficult times.”

The Wolfhurst department has employed a paid on-duty crew from 7 a.m.-5 p.m. in order to maintain service. Their regular volunteers mainly cover the daytime hours. They have about 20 volunteers and a paid crew of up to eight.

Otto added that similar laws have worked well in states like West Virginia.

“I think it’ll be a good thing for the volunteer community and the citizens we take care of,” he said.

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