Franklin County looking for answers to declining EMS volunteers

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FRANKLIN COUNTY (WSLS 10) - Franklin County supervisors are asking the state for guidance in what they see as a big problem down the road.

A lack of volunteers for Fire and EMS duties in the county may mean more paid crews in the future, or, if the money isn't there, slower response times.

The Chair of the Virginia Fire Services Board is hearing concerns from dozens of community members here in Franklin County.

Those range from concerns about equipment to how long it's taking to respond to calls, but by far the biggest concern across the board is the lack of people volunteering to be on the force.

Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mitchell says the crew where he serves in the Town of Hardy used to be larger.

"The rescue squad did pull out of Franklin due to the fact of lack of members," said Mitchell.

Mitchell is stationed in Bedford, but is often called to respond in Franklin County.

"If you have the members, they're there. If you don't have the members, it's tough to cover a call," said Mitchell.

He says his department has seen a sharp decline in volunteers, and most of the ones leaving are young people looking for more experience.

"We may go 2 days with a call, we may go 3 weeks and not get a call, and it's a big difference to keep volunteers, especially younger members that want to really get in and try to do stuff and we can't provide them the call volume," said Mitchell.

Fire Services Board Chair Walt Bailey says the Hardy department isn't alone.

"I've participated in a number of these studies and pretty much every jurisdiction we go to is experiencing a decline in the volunteers," said Bailey.

Bailey says it's a problem across the nation.

According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were around a million fewer volunteers nationwide in 2015 than in 2014.

Bailey says the only solution for most localities is increased funding.

"If you don't have the volunteers to run the calls, and it is an essential service, somebody's got to come up with a way to do it, and at times that runs into a lot of money," said Bailey.

Now, Bailey's job this week will be to determine what areas of the county need help the most.

He will provide the Board with recommendations to make sure service doesn't drop in the future.

Representatives from the Virginia Fire Services Board will be reviewing all of the volunteer Fire and EMS departments in Franklin County until Wednesday of this week, then they'll compile a report, which should be released come February of next year.