Wilton fire and rescue in need of emergency medical technicians

Wilton fire and rescue volunteer Harrison Schmidt showing a child how to use the fire hose. Wilton is struggling with a lack of emergency service volunteers. Photo by Tegan Kraklio

By Tegan Kraklio

The Wilton Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is in need of emergency medical technicians.

Though there’s no set number of volunteers required, EMS coordinator Susan Dykema-Sterner says she would like to get a least five more. Even just one more would be a much-needed blessing, she says.

As an all-volunteer based department, they are feeling the burden for lack of trained members and struggling to keep up with the needs of the community.

“I took a short time period for the calls — it was from Aug. 16 to Sept 26 — we had a total of 46 calls, and we made 38 of those,” Sterner said. “Now that’s fire and EMS together; unfortunately, I did not break that down to just medical calls. But even with those amount of people and those calls, we only made 83% of those. We have 17% going unanswered [by volunteers.]”

The reason for so many calls going unanswered are varied and complicated, but includes a lack of state funding, the cost of training, a high turnover and burnout rate, and a lack of volunteers.

“EMS care is not a guaranteed service in the state of Iowa.” Sterner said. “Fire is a guaranteed service, but not medical, which is kind of sad.”

She said her department has reached out to the city for assistance, which may be willing to help with the cost of training, by paying for tuition and having potential new volunteers who accept this sign a two-year contract.

The fire station tried this in the past, but some of the students did not pass the class and were responsible for paying back training costs.

“I’m not set up to be a bill collector,” Sterner said. “I’m the EMS coordinator, I shouldn’t have to worry about trying to get this fixed up.”

Without assistance, though, many can’t afford the cost of EMT training, with the average fee for the class around $1,700. After achieving EMT level, volunteers can continue their training to become a full paramedic, but Sterner says this often leads to them leaving.

As a paramedic they can work at an emergency room where they can make more money and receive benefits.

“Even when we get volunteers, then we lose them. It’s a common problem for volunteer services,” she said.

Without regular volunteers, the fire and EMS station can pull help from other resources, such as a registered nurse, a full paramedic, or even some of their firemen, depending on the type of call they received. But it’s not always ideal.

“Unfortunately, it has to be an RN, it can’t be a CNA (certified nursing assistant) or LPN (licensed practicing nurse) or other title,” Sterner said. “And we still have to go through things with them, because EMTs, we’re taught certain things… they get to do other stuff and we don’t.”

Because the volunteer station only operates at the EMS level, outside help is limited in what they’re able to do.

Speaking of the differences in their training, she said, “We have to bridge that gap.”

The Wilton Fire and EMS station can also receive help from neighboring stations.

“Durant is our first priority to get to our calls here in Wilton and Muscatine County. Unfortunately, they’re feeling the hurt just like we are, of not having enough EMTs,” Sterner said.

Until they gain new volunteers to meet the needs of the community, there’s a chance they will not make all of the medical calls they receive.

“Right now, as of personnel on our department, we have 44% can actually respond to a medical call,” she said.

The result of not getting to a call, though, could be drastic.

“Worst case scenario is a fatality.” Sterner said. “It’s always our worst case scenario. If someone has a heart attack or cardiac arrest… if none of us are available to get there to get CPR started, the less chance of survival. Our worst case scenario is always death, which is not what we want, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing.”

Despite the lack of help, Sterner is hopeful.

“My goal is to try and make as many calls as I can. My goal is to learn from each and every single call I go onto. I usually go back to the station and… do a debriefing, what did I do good, or bad, and then what can I teach my EMS personnel? What did I just learn, or hey did you guys think about this? That would be my goal: keep bettering ourselves to help the community.”

Interested individuals can pick up an application for a volunteer position at Wilton City Hall.