Ever-increasing state training requirements are thinning the already strained ranks of emergency medical technicians and costing communities money.
It is important that the volunteers who rush to help in emergency situations have good knowledge of the basic skills needed to stabilize and even save lives.
Their job is to get people from the site of an accident, heart attack or other emergency into the care of health-care professionals at area hospitals.
They are heroes in their hometowns, especially because most do this work without pay.
But long gone are the days when anyone with an interest in helping could ride in an ambulance. The state has training requirements for these volunteers that just keep growing.
No one would argue with the need for knowledge; the problem is just how much of it is now demanded of these citizens, most of whom have full-time jobs besides this volunteer work.
New York used to require 120 hours of training, but that increased this year to 170 hours.
Area fire departments and rescue squads have been moaning for years about how difficult it is to get volunteers. Faced with an extra 50 hours of training, people now have another reason to turn away from EMT service.
Shortages were already a problem when 120 hours of training was the standard. Several North Country communities have been forced to set up special districts to pay for emergency services and hire staff.
That complaint was conveyed to Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government Deirdre Scozzafava when she attended a recent meeting of the Essex County Board of Supervisors.
Willsboro Supervisor Shaun Gillilland pointed out that his community, along with the towns of Essex and Schroon, exceeded the state tax cap this year because they had to create medical services districts and hire paid EMTs and pass along the cost through taxes. They didn't have enough trained volunteers to maintain ambulance transports.
Some of the supervisors have lobbied the State Department of Health, without success, to get requirements for basic EMT lowered.
Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston said the state needs to wake up to what is happening: “It’s exploding the tax cap right out of the water.”
He noted that 80 percent of their ambulance runs are basic calls that don’t require a high-level EMT.
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi suggested the state at least exempt special-use districts like emergency-medical services from the tax cap.
“You can’t improve fire and ambulance services, improve our communities without (now) including them in the tax cap,” he said.
Hospital linkups put ambulance crews in good contact with highly trained medical personnel at area hospitals. Instructions can be relayed from doctors right to EMTs as they race in to a fully equipped facility.
But if the state doesn't make some adjustments in training requirements and special-district taxation, there won't be enough people willing to leave their homes and families at all hours to ride alongside patients in those ambulances.
That presents a far greater threat to life than a volunteer missing 50 extra hours of classroom instruction.