MORRISONVILLE - There's one month a year the nation calls on people to volunteer time to help out in their communities. And, though April is four months away, one local emergency service provider says there's no time like the present to lend a hand.
Justin K. Burl, chief officer for the Morrisonville Rescue Squad, said his department is facing the same problem many volunteer fire departments and emergency service providers are facing - dwindling membership. Since assuming his position as squad chief one year ago, Burl said he's seen the number of volunteers at the lowest it's been in years.
"We currently have 30 volunteers, which is down from recent years," said Burl.
Though 30 may sound like a sufficient number, said Burl, it can be a roll of the dice how many volunteers are available for a call. It depends on the time of day, given everyone's varying work schedules, he said.
Ideally, Burl said he'd like to see the squad's roster be bolstered to 45, which is the number other squads consider a "full roster." That number is also one departments didn't seem to have trouble filling years ago.
"It used to be you'd have so many people knocking on your door to join, you had to start limiting them," said Burl, who is also a member of the Morrisonville Volunteer Fire Department, where he said numbers are also down. "Now, it's kind of the other way around where we're knocking on people's doors trying to get people to volunteer."
In his opinion, Burl said it's a combination of reasons there are less volunteers today.
"The standards for training for firefighters and EMS have gone up dramatically, so that could be part of it for some people," said Burl. "It could also be because lifestyles have changed from years ago. There are more families where both the mom and dad are working, which cuts into time they would be volunteering."
Traditionally, those seen serving fire departments and rescue squads have grown up around them, said Burl.
Burl, who has served the squad for the past nine years, said his family has been involved with volunteer service for "several generations." He recalls how he used to "hang around the firehouse" as a kid, wanting to follow in the footsteps of his family.
"I was just a little disappointed when I turned 16 and they didn't have any sort of explorer program like we fortunately have today," he said.
The explorer program, which has been in existence for the rescue squad for the past six years, introduces young adults to the world of volunteer service, said Burl. The Morrisonville fire department, and many other emergency service organizations, have similar programs. The idea is to groom them to be active volunteers when they turn 18, he said.
"It gives them an opportunity to start shadowing us and see if it's something they want to do," said Burl. "It gives the ones looking to do something an opportunity to serve."
The rescue squad and fire department, together, currently have 12 members in their explorer programs, which Burl said is "a big number nowadays." That means potentially 12 prospective members for the departments down the road.
"That's amazing because our operations really depend on volunteerism," said Burl.
And, in rescue squads and fire departments, there are many jobs to do, he added. So, even if you don't feel like you can be the one administering CPR to a patient or fighting a fire inches from a burning building, there's room to help.
"There's a job for everybody," said Burl. "We do public education and awareness events. Even if you're not sure about doing something directly, if you just want to be a part of it, we'll have something for you. All you have to do is stop by or call. If you see a vehicle here, if you see the lights on, stop in."