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Waddington Volunteer Rescue Squad on life support, seeking new members

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WADDINGTON – Faced with dwindling membership and ever-increasing training requirements, the Waddington Volunteer Rescue Squad is on life support.

Its membership has shrunk to a point where the squad struggles to respond to emergency calls.

“It can be very scary for the community,” Chief Kelly S. Mayette said Tuesday. “We’re left with three active emergency medical technicians and two first responders. In a month and a half we will be losing an EMT, who is usually free during the day.”

Ms. Mayette said sometimes the same volunteers can take up to seven calls a week, which can put a strain on those who work full-time jobs and have families.

“Our members are starting to become burned out,” she said.

The biggest hurdle facing recruitment of EMTs is the state’s rigorous training process, Ms. Mayette said.

“People don’t have enough off time to commit to that kind of training. That is our struggle right there,” Ms. Mayette said.

A typical EMT training course, which is given two times a year, runs close to 90 hours, according to the St. Lawrence County Emergency Services Department. In addition, EMTs must recertify with the state every three years and must take additional training courses throughout the year.

“Once they complete their training, it’s important that their skills stay current,” county Emergency Services Director Joseph M. Gilbert said. “The training is always being amended and updated. It is not as simple as coming in off the street and filling out an application. It’s a perishable skill. If they are not continuously training, their skills won’t be 100 percent sharp.”

Mr. Gilbert said that all volunteer rescue squads have had to cope with increased training excercises, but most are not struggling like Waddington.

“There is an obligation aspect,” he said. “Volunteers have to be somewhat dedicated. When someone volunteers for the rescue the squad, they usually don’t sign up because of the training, it’s because they want to serve their community.”

In order to cope with its current call volume, the squad is resorting to a number of alternative measures.

“We considered hiring a part-time EMT to stay at the building,” Ms. Mayette said. “But that ends up costing us way too much for our department.”

As a temporary measure, the squad is considering working with neighboring squads in Lisbon, Madrid and Ogdensburg to provide mutual aid.

“If a call is near their town line, maybe they can assist us with their medical squad,” she said.

If the squad does not get enough volunteers, the town will have to resort to a paid agency like Seaway Valley Ambulance for emergency medical care and transport, Ms. Mayette said.

“It will cost the community in more ways than one,” Ms. Mayette said. “It will cost for us to have them here. They are going to hard-bill everyone.”

Currently, the squad only bills those with insurance, Ms. Mayette said.

“If you can’t afford it, we don’t push it,” she said.

The rescue squad will be submitting letters to community members asking for volunteers this week.

“We are looking get at least three to five more medical technicians and at least five drivers,” Ms. Mayette said. “We need some responsible people that are dedicated to helping their community. It takes a special person because we see a lot, but it’s worth serving the community.”

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