CROWN POINT - Emergency services are at risk in Crown Point.
A manpower shortage is causing the A.E. Phelps Fire and Rescue Company to struggle in providing fire and ambulance service to the community.
"We have a real problem," Fire Chief Scott Ingleston acknowledged. "Especially on the ambulance side, they're really hurting."
The fire company has a roster of 40 members, but Ingleston said a core group of about 15 keep the department running.
"We had a structure fire on Ferry Road the other day and we had fewer than 20 people respond," he said. "It's a real concern."
The problem is worse for the ambulance. The company has five emergency medical technicians, but only two are available to take the bulk of calls.
Take the case of Dave Hobbs, a Crown Point EMT. The Crown Point ambulance responded to 160 calls for help in 2008 with Hobbs along for 85 percent of the calls. He was named 2009 Basic Life Support Provider of the Year by the state Department of Health for his efforts, but how long can he keep up that pace at age 72?
"I don't know where we'd be without Dave," Ingleston said. "I know he really loves doing it, but down the line we have to get more EMTs."
The manpower shortage is so acute the local ambulance has been unable to respond to some calls recently, Ingleston said. Those calls were answered by Lamoille Ambulance Service, a Vermont-based company that operates in Ticonderoga.
Lamoille, though, is a private for-profit business that bills its customers. The A.E. Phelps ambulance is taxpayer supported and free to local residents.
So what's the solution?
Ingleston said the department has discussed recruiting drives and even hiring paid staff to supplement the work of volunteers.
"I really don't know what we'll do," he said. "There's just a real shortage of volunteers. People aren't willing to step up and do it anymore."
Ingleston believes the manpower shortage has two causes.
The state-mandated requirements for volunteers are ever-increasing.
When Ingleston became a firefighter in 1981 he was required to complete 39 hours of basic training. Today a new firefighter must complete 100 hours, including two days at a state fire school. The nearest one is in Saratoga.
To become an EMT a volunteer must complete six months of twice weekly classes and be re-certified every three years, Ingleston said.
"The (state) requirements ask a lot of volunteers," he said. "We scheduled an EMT class here in Crown Point two years ago to make it easier for people; no one signed up. There's just no interest."
The economy is also a factor, Ingleston said. Many people now work more than one job, leaving little time to volunteer.
"People are concerned with their families and jobs," he said. "The fire department isn't the priority it once was. People have a different agenda now. It's hard for them to find the time to go to the fire house to train or go on calls."
The Crown Point fire company just received three applications from prospective new members, Ingleston said. They are the first applications to join the department in more than two years.
Ingleston said new members are welcome. Anyone interested in joining the department can stop at a meeting. The department meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the fire house.
Crown Point's fire company formed in 1906 as the A.E. Phelps Chemical Engine Co. It later became the A.E. Phelps Engine Company and is now the A.E. Phelps Fire and Rescue Company.
It has two ambulances, two fire engines, a mini pumper, a tanker, a utility truck and a rescue boat.
An emphasis of the department is education. Ingleston said local firefighters visit Crown Point Central School at least once a year with fire safety information, while emergency medical technicians also visit the school with first aid and accident prevention information.