Some volunteer ambulance services in small communities are putting out a call for more volunteers. In a few cases, it'll mean the difference between having local first responders, or having to wait twice as long for an outside service to respond.
Mary Ann Schoch is one of just four Emergency Medical Technicians in the Glidden ambulance service. The group cover Glidden. They serve remote places like Jacobs, Peeksville, Gordon and Shanagolden. With so few people on staff, Schoch says the volunteer EMTs are in constant coordination.
Schoch: "We're telling each other where we are all the time. If I'm going to the grocery store, I'm emailing [EMT] Sharon. 'I'm going to the grocery store. I'll be out of town two hours.'"
Schoch has been a volunteer EMT since 1975. Now, as director of the all-volunteer Glidden Ambulance Service, she says their situation is dire. Either they double their volunteer numbers, or they shut down.
Schoch: "We don't have young people staying here anymore. They're moving away. They're going to bigger cities to get jobs or going to school to become educated and do things away from us."
So last month, they called an emergency town meeting. 25 people showed up in the Jacobs Town Hall. Gordon Town Chairman Doug Thorpe says that's not enough.
Thorpe: "I don't understand it. I mean this is something that affects every single person and every single family in our four townships. I mean, this is everybody. And 25 people show up? And then they'll all be crying if this goes away."
If the volunteer ambulance service goes away, the townships could contract with nearby Mellen and Park Falls, but that will be more expensive. Thorpe says it could double response time.
Thorpe: "If it's going to take a half an hour to an hour for an ambulance to get here, maybe I should move somewhere closer to where I can get to a hospital in ten minutes. If I have a heart attack - the odds are, the first hour is golden, they say, right? - they ain't never going to get there in an hour if it takes 45 minutes or a half hour for an ambulance to get here."
Last year, the Glidden Ambulance Service made 63 emergency calls. Schoch says the norm used to be 150. But like many rural areas, their population is declining.
About two-thirds of Wisconsin's 808 fire departments and ambulance services rely on volunteers. Wisconsin EMT Coordinator Ray Lemke says most of them are holding their own, but some are like Glidden, and struggling to recruit volunteers.
Lemke: "As times change and as attitudes change, sometimes we see the spirit of volunteerism is diminished a little bit about the state. Sometimes it waxes and wanes. We have done some interventions with [the local services], as far as providing some tactical and technical assistance out of our office here to assist those services, if there are things that we can do, suggestions we have made."
Lemke suggests that they hold a community event and let people know they need help.
Becoming a volunteer EMT takes commitment. People are required to take several hours of training to be certified, and then take a refresher course every two years. Back at the Jacobs Town Hall, half a dozen people came forward to sign up for certification training. 29-year-old Gary Eder of Glidden says he'll do what it takes.
Eder: "If this ambulance service falls apart, this town is going to go with it. I mean, it's one of the last things holding this community together, because without it everybody's going to leave to get healthcare elsewhere."
Brandon Dockerty's dad needed the ambulance recently, so the 30-year-old is signing up too. "Because they need it up here. What are they going to do if they lose it?"
If four of the six new volunteers pass the training and become certified by September, the Glidden Ambulance Service will continue to operate.