Editor’s note: This is the third of four articles delving into the volunteerism decline for Greene County’s fire and rescue departments.
Last December the Greene County Rescue Squad celebrated 50 years of operation as a volunteer organization, even though by that time it was already operating as a hybrid organization with career emergency workers, as well as volunteers.
Steven “Kelly” Grayson, a rescue member from Louisiana spoke during that Dec. 8 dinner honoring everyone who had served with the squad in the past half-century.
Grayson said volunteers don’t work for free—they save their communities millions of dollars and Greene County is no exception. Another night career shift, provided by University of Virginia Medic 5, was added in the fiscal 2020 budget this spring, bringing the total budgeted for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to nearly $1.2 million.
“Volunteers were trying to do the nights but we just couldn’t because of a lack of bodies,” said Capt. Jack McKeen, who has been a rescue volunteer in Greene County for the past eight years.
“People don’t know if it’s a paid person showing up or volunteers; when they call 911 they want to see somebody,” he said.
The rural areas of Greene County present a challenge meeting that request whether it’s paid or volunteer personnel.
“There are some areas of the county that take 45 minutes to get to, like Flattop Mountain—on a good day,” he said. “I’ve gone up in the snow and it’s taken us hours to get there. And having trucks somewhere else that’s closer doesn’t really help if you don’t have the people to sit in them.”
McKeen started volunteering with Madison County Rescue Squad in the late 1990s and at that time they were bursting with people who wanted to help. He is currently paid rescue personnel in Madison County because they’ve struggled to have enough volunteers, as well.
In 2016, there were 2,140 calls for EMS in Greene and in 2018 there were 2,337, according to statistics from the Greene County Sheriff’s Office which oversees the E911 center.
“That’s a lot of calls and I think this year we’re going to beat that number at the rate we’re going now,” he added. McKeen said one reason for lesser numbers of volunteers is the experienced people are getting older and younger ones aren’t interested in the same way.
“The younger generation just doesn’t seem to have the community spirit they once did … they’d rather be out than sitting up here,” he said.
The cost of the EMT classes is also prohibitive, though the squad will pay for those who pledge to be a member for a certain length of time. There are also state grants to help offset the cost for those willing to take the course.
Money is a concern for the squad, though they do get funding from the county.
“It’s never enough,” he said. “We’ve asked for increases over the past few years and they’ve denied it. Our medical costs three years ago were around $30,000 in just band aids and supplies, and last year we spent $50,000.”
The cost for the new ambulances keeps rising, too. The newest one cost $249,000, but that didn’t include anything within. The squad received a grant for the loading and locking system, which runs around $40,000. Once you get it stocked the new truck costs around $300,000, McKeen said.
The squad sends out letters seeking donations, and they do get a response but he’d like to see that higher, too.
Other fundraisers are not really possible because of the lack of manpower.
“In a perfect world, I’d love to have around 50 good, solid people who will show up,” McKeen said.
He said there are jobs that can be done that don’t require people to become EMTs, though those are desperately needed.
“We need help and we need money,” he said. “Actually I need people more than I need money. We’ve tried advertising, but not sure it really got the word out. We just don’t know how to get people in here. We’ve had open houses, toucha-truck events, trunk-ortreat nights—we’re out in the community. We’re at a loss; I think everybody is.”
McKeen invites community members to tour the squad house, see the equipment and ask questions—even do a ride along one night.
“I don’t want to say our days as a volunteer organization are over, but it’s changing all over the country,” he said.
The squad is at 9845 Spotswood Trail, Stanardsville. Call the non-emergency number for more information or to set up a ride along at (434) 985-7214. The rescue squad also includes information about upcoming classes and events on its Facebook page www.facebook.com/greenecountyrescuesquad.