According to data compiled by the Patrick County Emergency Services Dispatch Office, the average number of calls volunteer rescue squads are responding to is on the decline.
Patrick County Emergency Management Services (EMS) Coordinator Scottie Cassell said the decline can be attributed to a decrease in volunteerism.
“No fault of ours or theirs or anybody’s, it’s nationwide. We’re trying with the EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class to get some more people in,” he said.
At the start of the year, Cassell said the number of calls going out for each station and call coverage was decent. However, as the year went on, the answered calls have declined.
“The call volume has not changed, it’s the covering census that’s gone down. So, the calls they (volunteer agencies) don’t cover, Station 8 has to cover,” he said.
In May, the CCDF Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad received 32 calls in their area and responded to four. The department did not provide any mutual aid to other stations, and had an average area call coverage of 12.50 percent.
Ararat Volunteer Rescue Squad, or Station 2, answered seven of its 16 area calls in the same time frame, and provided aid coverage once. It covered 43.75 percent of all calls made to its area, and had an average dispatch to enroute, or the time it takes to answer the call, of 14 minutes.
The data showed that JEB Stuart Rescue Squad received 118 calls in May and responded to 70 of them while also providing mutual aid coverage four times. The department had an average dispatch to enroute time of five minutes, and covered 59.32 percent of all calls in its area.
In May, Smith River Rescue Squad answered six of its 25 area calls, and provided aid once, for call coverage of 24 percent.
Vesta Rescue Squad received 12 area calls, responded to zero and did not provide mutual aid. It had an area call coverage of zero percent.
The Blue Ridge Volunteer Rescue Squad answered all five of its area calls, and provided mutual aid twice for a total of seven answered calls. It had an area call coverage of 100 percent.
Since Station 8 was created to provide support to the volunteer squads, it does not have a primary area coverage area. It provided mutual aid coverage to other squads 108 times.
In May, Station 8 covered 75 percent of the calls for CCDF, 18.75 percent of the calls for Ararat, and 38.98 percent of the calls for JEB Stuart. The paid service also covered 76 percent of Smith River’s calls, 91.68 percent of Vesta’s, and none of Blue Ridge’s.
Cassell said the data so far for 2022 is on track with that of 2021.
“If we look at last year, the trend is actually getting worse on call coverage. We’re still covering 51 to 52 percent of all calls, and have been for over a year now,” he said.
According to data, in 2021 CCDF received 230 calls in its area and responded to 77 of those calls. CCDF also provided mutual aid coverage for other stations seven times, responding to 33.48 percent of all calls covered in its area.
Ararat responded to 107 of 158 calls last year, for a total of 67.72 percent of area calls covered. It provided mutual aid coverage 10 times to other stations.
The data shows that JEB Stuart received 1,345 calls, and answered 823 of them in 2021. The agency also provided mutual aid coverage to other stations 40 times, for a total of 863 answered calls. The squad had a total area coverage of 61.19 percent.
Smith River answered 86 of its 315 area calls, and provided mutual aid five times, for a total of 27.30 percent of calls covered in its area.
Vesta received 177 calls, answered 29 of them, provided mutual aid four times to other stations, and had a total of 16.38 calls covered in its area.
Blue Ridge answered 70 of its 91 area calls for a total of 76.92 percent of area calls covered. The squad also provided mutual aid 25 times to other squads for a total of 95 total calls answered.
Station 8 provided mutual aid coverage to other stations 1,025 times. The paid service also covered 57.83 percent of CCDF’s calls and 15.19 percent of Ararat’s.
The data showed that Station 8 also covered 36.36 percent of JEB Stuart’s, 66.35 percent of Smith River’s, 76.27 percent of Vesta’s, and 6.59 percent of Blue Ridge’s.
In 2021, 2,316 calls were placed in Patrick County, 2,308 were answered, and mutual aid coverage to other stations was provided 1,116 times. A total of 51.47 percent of area calls were answered by the volunteer squads.
Cassell said the low call coverage can in part be attributed to the lack of volunteers.
“Volunteerism is so far down and there is unfortunately no one, including the counties around us, have found an answer for that,” he said.
He noted the extensive training that is required is another reason for the low number of volunteers.
“To be an EMT on an ambulance, you’re looking at basically 150 hours of training. To be a paramedic, to go up to do cardiac related stuff, you’re looking at an additional two years after the 150 hours,” he said.
“So, it’s actually a full-time/part-time job that you’re not getting paid for,” he added.
CCDF Secretary Karen Cowdrey said the rescue squad has 37 members with about 30 of them active. Those who are interested in volunteering with the squad should go to its monthly meeting on the first Monday at 7 p.m.
Smith River Captain Connie Goode said the squad had 18 members in 2021 that ran at least one call.
“In 2020, we had 18 people that ran at least five calls. In 2021, we dropped down to 10 members who ran at least five calls,” she said.
Goode said those interested in joining Smith River can call her at (276) 229-8241, or come to the monthly meeting at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of every month at the squad’s station.
Vesta Captain Howard Alderman said the rescue squad currently has six active members with three being active EMTs and the rest being solely ambulance drivers.
“We’re in the process of adding more providers. They’re doing paperwork and then we have to do a background check,” he said.
Alderman added that anyone who is interested in joining the group can get an application from a member or stop by the monthly meeting every first Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Joanne Spangler, treasurer for the JEB Stuart squad, said there are volunteers, with seven being active members. “Two are on medical leave,” she said, adding there also are six part-time paid staff on the payroll.
Those interested in volunteering can go to the station and ask for an application or go to the monthly meeting every third Monday at 7 p.m. at the station. Spangler said interested parties can also call Jimmy Spangler at (276) 229-6272.
“We also have the ride along program if you have ever wondered if you could volunteer to do EMS. You will sign a release and be able to go on calls to observe but will have no contact with the patients. This will give you the feel if you will be interested in volunteering,” she said.
Other rescue squad captains did not return calls for comment.
Cassell said one of the most disturbing things is the average dispatch to scene times. Because of the geography of the county, he noted that it takes some squads upwards of 30 minutes to get to a scene.
“Some of our emergencies are very time sensitive – strokes, heart attacks, and codes – and we don’t have the staff here to cover those calls and they go unanswered for quite a while,” he said.
In some cases, Cassell noted that it takes multiple tones to get a squad to respond. For example, he said that in March, a tone was sent out eight times in the Vesta area, with a two-minute interval between each, for a total response wait time of 16 minutes. Floyd County responded to that call.
Cassell said a tone was also sent out 20 times in the CCDF area for a patient with abdominal pain. He said Station 8 covered the call once it got a truck free.
“We’ve had Carroll County come over, and we’ve had Henry County come up. We’ve actually had to have Henry come up to cover calls in Stuart before. We have a close relationship with all the counties around us, thank goodness,” he said.
Cassell said he is thankful for the numerous volunteers that take time out of their lives to do a great job and would love to see volunteerism pick back up.
“It’s getting to the point now that safety is becoming a big issue for the public, and the county’s got to do something to get these calls covered. I sat with a patient for 45 minutes before I got an ambulance,” he said.
While not life threatening, Cassell said it could have been a disastrous moment. He added that Station 8 is on pace to run a little more than 1,500 calls this year with one truck. In 2021, the paid service ran 1,400 with the single truck.