Volunteer this new year

The new year has just begun — the ideal time to make resolutions or undertake new responsibilities. Why not, then, consider volunteering? There are so many worthy causes that could use the support, many right in our own backyard.

First and foremost, our local fire departments need volunteers. Around here, most are completely dependent on help from those residents who care enough to serve and protect, regardless of whether they’re helping neighbors or strangers. Brave and selfless, our fire department volunteers save lives. 

The rewards are of the spiritual sort: the knowledge of having done a good deed, the pleasure of helping others, the reassurance of preserving and protecting one’s community. The financial rewards are slim to none, and volunteering takes both time and energy.

But what would we ever do without our volunteers? We’re quickly finding out, as fire departments throughout the region are resorting to private providers for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) coverage. Around here, many ambulances are provided by Northern Dutchess Paramedics (NDP), a worthy outfit that provides the coverage we need, but at a price. Costly but necessary, there just isn’t enough volunteer manpower to staff our rescue squads. As with firefighters, volunteer paramedics are far and few between.

Yet when there’s an emergency, we rely heavily on those volunteers. We shouldn’t take them for granted, though many do. What they do is invaluable, but it’s not incalculable.

Let’s take a look at the town of North East as an example. There, the Town Board worked with NDP  to hash out a contract for 2015 and 2016 for Advanced Life Support (ALS) and Basic Life Support (BLS) services. The cost for that contract, which continued unchanged for a two-year period, was $180,000.

Upon entering 2017, the town had to renegotiate its contract. That year, the contract increased by $80,000, up to $260,000. 

For 2018, the contract will increase another $50,000, to $310,000. 

For the third and final year of the contract, 2019, there will be an increase of $30,000, bringing the total up to $340,000.

“It’s not an ideal solution, but at the same time we couldn’t leave people vulnerable,” said North East town Supervisor George Kaye after negotiations.

The contract with NDP provides ALS and BLS 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Meanwhile, the town awaits a possible shared services solution. A county task force was created to address the universal problem caused by the shortage of volunteers, which so many towns and villages now face. Until the county pieces together a solution, though, municipalities will continue relying on all of us to do our part and volunteer. 

So, if able-bodied and willing, why not consider becoming a volunteer in 2018? Doing so can save lives, it can save property, it can save communities. And to those who already volunteer, let us take this opportunity to say thank you. Your service has not gone unnoticed.

For more on the struggle to man our local volunteer fire departments, read Carol Kneeland’s story on Page A1. To learn more on how to become a volunteer, contact your local fire department.