When the whistles sound in towns across Washington County, the selfless men and women of the fire and rescue departments for Arlington, Blair, Fort Calhoun, Herman and Kennard answer the call.
These brave individuals are volunteers.
This past week has served as national EMS Week — a time to honor the local volunteers who give their time for monthly meetings, drills and responding to rescue calls both day and night.
And they do it for free.
The Blair Volunteer Fire Department answered 879 calls in 2020 — 644 were rescue calls. Members logged more than 2,000 responding to rescue calls.
Even smaller communities, like Kennard, have seen their numbers increase, which can put a strain on volunteers.
Washington County departments have faced problems recruiting and retaining volunteers.
In a letter to the Arlington Citizen, Arlington Rescue Capt. Dave Nissen noted the sacrifices and dedication of these individuals.
“However, while volunteerism has filled ambulance seats in small towns, it has prohibited EMS from being seen as an essential public service that needs the same level of funding given to roads, sewers and law enforcement,” Nissen wrote. “Even the smallest and poorest of municipalities do not have volunteers fixing roads, teaching school, plowing snow, maintaining water supplies or staffing police departments; taxpayers know they have to pay for these services.”
According to salary.com, EMTs in Nebraska earn an average salary of just over $33,000 a year. If four paid personnel were to be on duty every day, a city would be required to pay at least $132,000 a year.
Nebraska City, which is only slightly smaller than Blair, moved to a paid EMS service in 2008. The department has 30 members. There are four full-time paramedic. The remainder are paid part time.
But with volunteer departments, these are salaries that taxpayers don't have to pay. Instead, departments rely on donations from fundraisers and payment of bills from those who are transported to pay for equipment and other needs.
These volunteers should never be taken for granted. If you know a volunteer, thank them. They are there when we need them the most.
To those who volunteer, we commend you.