Years ago, volunteer fire companies enjoyed a special status in small communities, where prospective volunteers weren’t so much recruited as they were coordinated, as applicants sometimes had to wait until openings in the ranks became available.
As for funding, that was easier too back then because these volunteers were the friends and neighbors of the people they protected, so when they asked for help they received it.
In addition, ambulance crews were less sophisticated than they are now, limited as they were to providing basic first aid while they hustled victims and patients to the hospital as quickly as possible so they could receive real medical help.
Thankfully, those days are gone, as professional emergency medical technicians and paramedics can administer much more advanced care because of their extensive training.
The downside of this huge improvement in emergency services, however, is that it become prohibitively expensive to maintain.
Small town companies also face a diminishing supply of volunteers, partly because community closeness, family tradition and the sense of neighbors depending on neighbors have faded as residential turnover has increased.
The Berlin Fire Company, like its counterparts everywhere, is in a tough situation. It is expected — and generally required — to keep up with rapidly advancing firefighting and rescue service techniques on a budget that isn’t growing at the same pace.
Residents and governments need to understand that, because if they think this approach to public safety costs too much to deliver, they don’t even want to think about the alternative: being forced to hire more and more paid personnel until the volunteer service is all but gone.
That’s where things are headed here and elsewhere, so residents need to start thinking about the future of their EMS systems and how they propose to keep what they have in the future.