A shift for vol­un­teers?

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Vol­un­teerism is in­grained in our county’s foun­da­tion and has been the back­bone of so many of our great­est suc­cesses on a na­tion­wide and lo­cal level.

This na­tion’s fire­fight­ing corps has some of the rich­est vol­un­teer his­to­ries and some mod­ern de­part­ments re­main vol­un­teer-based.

But most de­part­ments are now run by full-time, paid fire­fight­ers who view the ser­vice as a ca­reer. The role of the vol­un­teer fire­fighter is dwin­dling, but we don’t be­lieve the role of the vol­un­teer has to dwin­dle.

Dur­ing New­ton County’s pop­u­la­tion boom of the 2000s, the num­ber of full-time fire­fight­ers and full-time sta­tions in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly, and vol­un­teers be­gan to shift into a sup­port sys­tem for the full-time staff.

Vol­un­teer fire­fight­ers are still needed. If you talk to Chief O’Brien, he feels he is miss­ing 30 more ca­reer, paid fire­fight­ers and at least three more full-time sta­tions to ad­e­quately cover vast New­ton County.

How­ever, an in­creas­ingly-com­plex world is suck­ing up people’s time like never be­fore, and it’s be­com­ing rarer that people are able to de­vote time and ef­fort to train­ing and be­ing on call. Plus, the chief raises con­cerns of ef­fi­ciency by hav­ing a hy­brid ca­reer-vol­un­teer sys­tem.

Here’s a key point though: Fight­ing fires isn’t our big­gest con­cern. Med­i­cal calls dwarf the num­ber of fire calls, so much so that fire de­part­ments are re­quir­ing fire­fight­ers to be du­ally-trained as EMTs and pur­chas­ing SUVs to use as emer­gency-re­sponse ve­hi­cles to pro­vide speed and added flex­i­bil­ity com­pared to a hulk­ing fire en­gine.

We haven’t fully re­searched the idea, but what if New­ton County be­gan fo­cus­ing on form­ing a larger, emer­gency med­i­cal vol­un­teer team?

These vol­un­teers would fo­cus on the med­i­cal knowl­edge that would come in handy in so many more sit­u­a­tions than their fire­fight­ing train­ing. We know some vol­un­teers are al­ready du­ally-equipped in these roles, and we’re not down­play­ing their abil­ity. But it seems like it would be an eas­ier thing to form a re­ally large med­i­cal vol­un­teer base — a few hun­dred strong — spread across the county who could be no­ti­fied when a med­i­cal emer­gency was hap­pen­ing.

Ini­tial re­sponse time could drop to a cou­ple min­utes if the base is large enough — think if there was one or two emer­gency vol­un­teers in ev­ery de­cent-sized neigh­bor­hood — and this force would pro­vide a huge boost to the cur­rent am­bu­lance and emer­gency ser­vices.

We haven’t thought of all of the is­sues and holes in our idea, but we’re rais­ing the point to be­gin the con­ver­sa­tion.

Vol­un­teer fire­fight­ing is im­por­tant, but if there are is­sues with the fire ser­vice, it might make sense to be­gin fo­cus­ing our ef­forts more closely on the med­i­cal side. What do you think? Weigh in on so­cial me­dia, Cov­News.com or by email­ing news@cov­news.com.

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