Sampson County, like many others, is dealing with a diminishing amount of volunteer firefighters to complement its paid fire and rescue personnel. A grant sought by one fire department hopes to boost that number, even as a recent expansion of paid rescue workers has seen response times improve.
Taylors Bridge Fire Department has submitted an application for the 2013 SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) Grant. If approved, the funds will be used for recruitment of volunteers countywide for fire and rescue.
Emergency Management director Ronald Bass said Taylors Bridge would administer the grant, totaling $289,000. The grant could be awarded as early as this spring.
“They applied for the grant,” said Bass. “If approved, what that grant would do is hire individuals that can go out and pretty much do nothing but try and recruit volunteers for fire and EMS. I think it would be a big benefit to all the volunteer agencies in the county if that grant is approved. Their primary job would be nothing but to try and recruit volunteers — and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Bass said the grant would extend over a period of four years. The grant would assist in an area that still needs it, he said. ‘
Bass detailed the disturbing trend of dwindling volunteers just last year, saying the number of rescue volunteers in Sampson had dropped by half since 2005, prompting “a very serious circumstance” for more paid EMS personnel. In 2005, there were 127 volunteer EMS members in Sampson. In 2012, there were around 60 to 65.
Bass and Newton Grove Rescue Captain Kelly Blackman were among those who spoke about the declining number of volunteers and the need to provide adequate emergency services countywide, while addressing the diminished capability of the Newton Grove Rescue squad. Hearing the pleas of Bass and others, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners approved in April funding six additional rescue personnel for Sampson County EMS.
The six personnel, including three EMT-Paramedics and there EMT-Intermediates, helped alleviate the immediate need in the Newton Grove and Suttontown rescue district.
At the time, Blackman summed up the plight of local rescue organizations whose personnel are strapped with providing service while working the jobs that put food on the table. He said many in the community do not differentiate between paid workers and volunteers, who may be working multiple other jobs in addition to non-paid rescue duties.
“If I don’t have personnel to do that and people are waiting 20 to 30 minutes for us to show up, it causes a lot of uproar on the community,” said Blackman. “They have expectations, and I don’t know how to meet them anymore. They expect services.”
Another three EMTs were approved as part of the current 2012-13 budget to help the entire county, notably Clinton and the central part of the county which receives the heaviest call volume.
Bass said receiving the SAFER grant would continue to move the county forward.
“Just because Taylors Bridge is the one that applied for it, they’re going to share it with all the fire departments within the Fire Association,” the Emergency Management director remarked. “I think they stand a good chance of (getting the grant). I have my fingers crossed, because it would certainly be a benefit.”
Response times down
The amount of time it took to respond to an emergency situation declined in 2012 over the time it took the previous year, bolstered by the additional paid personnel.
During 2012, five ambulances and one quick response vehicle were in service 24 hours a day. The QRV was in service all day through two separate vehicles in 12-hour shifts. Last June, an additional ambulance was placed in Clinton 12 hours a day. In September, that ambulance became 24 hours a day, contributing to the improvement in average response time. A 24-hour QRV was staged in Clement starting at the beginning of January.
While it is still early to gauge the effects of the new QRV, Bass said response times in 2012 were a full minute less than they were in 2011.
In 2011, it took 12 minutes, 12 seconds on average to respond to an emergency call. Last year, it took 11 minutes, 15 seconds. The statewide average response time is 8 minutes, 39 seconds.
“We’re still a ways above the state average,” said Bass, “but we have to consider we’re competing with Wake County, (and) we’re competing with Charlotte. The way Sampson County is, it is a rural county. We all know that. It’s a long ways to Harrells from Ivanhoe, it’s a long ways to Roseboro from Autryville. The only way I think we can get this response time is put some more ambulances out there, but with the layout of the county, people are not waiting on ambulances like they have in the past.”
“These guys are getting there in a timely manner,” Bass said.
A 180-degree-turn from last year’s state of rescue remarks, Bass said he was happy with the way service has improved over the past year, and offered his gratitude to the county staff and commissioners for what their quick action.
“I’m very proud of where we’re at with Sampson County EMS,” Bass said. Do we have problems and needs? Yes we do. But we met a lot of goals thanks to what you did last year. I think the citizens appreciate it, and I know appreciate it. On behalf of Emergency Management, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you did. I’d put Sampson County Emergency Services with anyone in the state. It may not be as big as some, but I’d put us with any of them.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.