SALEM, N.J. (CBS) — Getting help quickly during an emergency is critical, and right now, New Jersey is facing a shortage of volunteer EMTs.
Some volunteer squads have folded and others are merging with paid ambulance services, shifting the burden to taxpayers.
If you want to know what a volunteer ambulance squad wants for Christmas these days, just ask Capt. Cameron Cagle of the Fenwick Community Ambulance squad in Salem.
“I would love to have my staff to be about 20 people,” said Cagle.
Right now, they only have 10, and only half of them are EMT certified.
The training requirements to become certified in New Jersey have more than doubled this decade from about 110 hours to more than 250 hours.
As a result, people willing to put in the hours as volunteers have fallen by the wayside.
“When we do recruit somebody they’re all gun-ho, but then they find out ‘I can’t make that because I can’t get a sitter or because I have my second job to do,’” said Gene Cagle, Cameron’s father and president of the Fenwick Ambulance Squad.
The volunteer shortage is being felt throughout the Garden State as the EMS Council of New Jersey has seen the number of member squads decrease from about 400 back in the year 2000 to about 275 squads now.
Experts say the state needs to make changes, like modifying EMT training schedules and locations to better accommodate volunteers’ home and work lives.
“We need volunteers, but the legislators need to somehow step up and help these towns to try to recruit people, make it easier for them, make the training easier, make it rewarding,” said Joseph Walsh of the EMS Council.
In the meantime, squads like Fenwick will continue to feel the staffing pinch, especially around the holidays when emergency calls increase and it’s the same small number of volunteers that dash off to help.
“Christmas Day is one of our busiest days,” said Capt. Cagle. “So you finally open the presents with your kids or your family and then we got to go on a call and it’s hard to do. I don’t expect anyone to do it all the time. It’s tough.”