First responder shortage ‘extreme’ in Marshall County

The number of volunteer emergency responders is dwindling nationwide and Marshall County is seeing the same problem.

Emergency management coordinator Kim Elder has noticed a downturn in volunteerism during the last 10 years. An upswing does not appear to be imminent.

“It’s extreme,” Elder said of the shortage. “It gets worse every year.”

The severity of the situation varies from town to town. Haverhill and Laurel have lost departments and Clemons’ EMS has fallen to the wayside without volunteers. The result is longer response times as out of town agencies need to cover those communities.

Meanwhile the departments in place such as State Center and Marshalltown need to stretch their resources even further. State Center picked up the Clemons area and covers to the county line.

“That’s a huge response area,” Elder said. “Liscomb is very short. Ferguson has not had EMS for many years.”

The problem is even more prevalent during the daytime when most volunteers are working.

This issue is even more evident when there are late night calls like the recent field fires near Albion.

Elder said some of the firefighters left from the call early in the morning after battling the fire, only to turn around and go to work directly after.

“They are going nonstop. Many of them do that,” she said. “You can only do so much to a human before they burn out.”

The state of volunteer EMS departments across Iowa is similar to what the rest of the United States is seeing according to Elder.

Elder attributes the shrinking number of volunteers to several causes. Some volunteer first responders experience the burn out Elder mentioned.

While the older firefighters and EMS responders are leaving there aren’t enough younger volunteers replacing them.

This could be because of an increased focus on work. Many people work more than one job. Others may not be exposed to or educated on the ways they can help.

The EMS coordinator hopes to incorporate more education and awareness, especially to junior high and high school-aged children.

She said she has spoken with state senators and representatives and brings the issue up with the Governor’s office regularly.

“I really would like to see some programs put into junior high and high school. Doing some job shadowing,” Elder said. “If we can put them through EMT or firefighter classes that would be amazing. So we’d be coming out of school with kids very excited to put those skills to work and bring them back to the community.”

For people who aren’t fully trained to be an EMT or firefighter but still want to help, there is a need for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteers.

“They fill the gap between the untrained citizen and the first responder,” Elder explained. “They might supplement some help on a big accident and do things a trained person doesn’t need to be doing like traffic control.”

The loss of volunteers and the culture of volunteerism isn’t only noticed by Elder in EMS.

Elder has noticed many community organizations and churches are often strapped for volunteers as well.

“Some things have changed about how people look at volunteerism,” she said. “It’s not that people don’t want to give back. People are burning the candle at both ends and they’re very busy. The more we can, as first responders and public agencies, teach people how important it is — plant that seed and they’ll get the bug. It becomes like a big family. Once people get involved and if they don’t get burned out I think they really do enjoy what they do.”


If you have questions about volunteering as a first responder, taking a class or just want to get involved; contact Marshall County Emergency Management Coordinator Kim Elder at 641-751-1726 or kelder@marshallcountyia.gov.

Contact Joe Fisher at jfisher@timesrepublican.com.


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