Drivers wanted to keep ambulance squad on the road


Station 8 is looking for volunteer ambulance drivers, especially during day time hours.

CRISFIELD — The ambulance service here is in dire straits — not because it lacks certified medical attendants but because it is running out of volunteer drivers. Day time hours are especially problematic as the Lower Somerset County Ambulance & Rescue Squad finds it increasingly difficult to staff the 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift.

Captain George Nelson calls it a “near critical situation” because while there are paid paramedics they can’t get to a call without drivers. “I am really concerned about the lack of volunteers during the day,” he said. Drivers can be scheduled as little as two days a month, or one day a week, or more but he would like to talk to potential candidates to get the on board.

“At nighttime we’re pretty fat,” Mr. Nelson said. But as he looks at the October calendar there are a lot of days where no one is available or signed up. A deputy sheriff, he’s grateful that he’s been able to take calls as a last resort but that can’t continue.

“It goes up and down, in cycles,” he said, “but right now we’re in a pretty deep valley.”

You do not have to live in the Crisfield area to be a driver, as there are volunteers from Marion and even Fruitland willing to be at the station to cover calls. Applicants must be at least 18, have a valid license, clean driving record, and from there Mr. Nelson and Doug Lewis will ease them into learning how to drive an ambulance. They will take the CPR certification class, and be oriented on where emergency equipment and supplies are in the ambulance.

“They don’t do patient care,” Mr. Nelson said, but they will help load and unload patients. Fortunately most the 900 calls Station 8 receives each year are to McCready Memorial Hospital rather than Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury.

“We’ve had a lot of good drivers come in,” he said, but some have retired “and we need a fresh crop coming in.”

The ambulance squad started a driver program a few years ago in response to increasing training hours required of EMTs. In July 2008 paid paramedics joined the all-volunteer crew so they could be sure each run was with an Advance Life Support (ALS) team.

“We do what we have to do to get it done,” Mr. Nelson said, crediting “the good people we have.”

Anyone interested in learning more can contact Mr. Nelson at the ambulance squad, 410-968-2000, or leave a message with the paramedic at the station. He can also be reached at the Sheriff’s Office, 410-651-9226.

A snapshot about the cost of doing business

The county funds the paramedic program with a $150,000 allocation to both Crisfield and the Princess Anne Volunteer Fire Company, but the volunteers keep the station and equipment running. On that Mr. Nelson said this past summer’s fund drive that was intended to be for FEMA upgrades to the station and renovations to the overnight bunk area was siphoned off to cover a replacement engine in one of the ambulances that cost $22,000. He said no decision has been made on how to get the original work done, which could include borrowing money as an option.

Another expense is a new heart monitor, which run $40,000. They have one that are going to have to be retired soon because the company that makes it will no longer provide technology updates or provide service.

Volunteerism is what makes front line emergency services affordable for taxpayers because it would cost tens of millions of dollars more for Somerset County should it have to have an paid ambulance and fire service. “Rural counties,” Mr. Nelson said. “could never afford it.”

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