Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Teresa Simpson
Whitman County Gazette 

Rural counties face volunteer shortage


TEKOA—The City Council of Tekoa will be holding a meeting to talk about recruiting for volunteer firefighters and EMS, Tuesday, March 7, at the Tekoa High School from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

President of the Tekoa Ambulance/EMS, Ken Morrison explained that they are facing issues finding people who want to volunteer.

It’s not just Tekoa that is facing the issue of understaffed volunteer firefighters/EMS, but several towns around the county, Morrison added, mentioning that the Rosalia ambulance is going to attend the meeting to support recruiting.

“It’s a nationwide issue, and it’s getting hard for us in rural counties,” Morrison said.

Rosalia Fire Chief, Laura Lautenslager also acknowledged that it’s more than just Rosalia and Tekoa that are facing this problem.

“It’s a county-wide issue and a nationwide issue,” Lautenslager said, adding that volunteers are not applying, and it’s making it harder for those who are covering. Those who are taking on the calls are suffering burn out.

Lautenslager added that in the last year Rosalia alone had over 450 calls.

Morrison explained that they’re recruiting for drivers and EMT.

“Drivers have to pass a driving background,” Morrison said, adding that they go through a training that the department pays for out of pocket. For CPR, volunteers are sent to a certified instructor that the State of Washington requires.

“It takes a year for people to get comfortable doing what they do,” Morrison said, noting that it’s a big investment they make. The training generally costs around a couple thousand dollars, which the departments pay for.

Morrison explained that one of the things often heard is that people don’t want to deal with that kind of stuff.

“We don’t want to either, but we do it,” Morrison said, adding someone has to do it.

“If not you, then who,” Lautenslager said, adding that there’s many benefits to being a member of a department.

Both Morrison and Lautenslager stated that there’s a great support system found in joining a department.

“We can reach out to our neighbors and they’re willing to help us,” Morrison said, “With us being in a small town we have to realize we have to wear multiple hats and step and help each other out.”

“I’ve been here since 2007,” Lautenslager said, noting that members of the department have become a second family.

Lautenslager explained that not only is it a great service to the community, but there’s a lot to be learned. The average EMT class is about three months, and skills can be applied to volunteers’ personal life and family.

“I have a couple friends who have helped a choking kid just based on what they’ve learned from EMT,” she said, adding that on the fire side volunteers learn about prevention.

Both Rosalia and Tekoa ambulances have been helping one another out. Both have agreed that something has to change, because it’s getting to be a lot to handle.

“If there is anybody who is interested, I highly encourage people to reach out to their local departments,” Lautenslager said, “It’s not just Rosalia and Tekoa but everywhere and we’d greatly appreciate new people and help.”


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