Madison County emergency services rely on volunteer help; numbers have dwindled

It is no secret that nationwide, volunteer services are dwindling and disappearing – Madison County is no exception. A giant red sign hangs outside Sheridan’s town hall that reads VOLUNTEERS NEEDED, the Ruby Valley Ambulance has posted ads in The Madisonian looking for volunteers and the same holds true in the Madison Valley, as the ambulance and fire departments are struggling to keep a full and active roster.

Harrison Volunteer Fire Department

“We just want people to come check us out and see if this might be something they’re interested in,” said Bert Starr. “See what we’re all about.”

Starr has been a volunteer with the HVFD for five years. With 31 years of experience in wildland firefighting, Starr got involved with the department because he wanted to stay current with his certifications, as well has help his community.

“I also enjoy the camaraderie and the brotherhood/sisterhood of the department,” he added.

The HVFD covers 368 square miles and provides mutual aid when needed, and currently has 15 volunteers on their roster. Only about six volunteers are active with the department.

“And most of us are pushing 50,” said fire chief Boice Atkinson, adding there are no younger volunteers within the 18-30 age range.

Atkinson, who is in his first year as chief, said he always wanted to be firefighter.

“It’s enjoyable to be able to reach out to the community and to be able to help people in their time of need,” he said.

Being in a small community also makes a difference, both good and bad.

“Bad things happen and when it’s happening to your neighbors and friends, it can make it a little more challenging,” added Marsha Atkinson.

M. Atkinson is a volunteer with HVFD and organizes the department’s trainings, including their upcoming academy in late April. Having always wanted to be a first responder, M. Atkinson holds advanced EMT training and said she “caught the firebug.”

“It’s this living, breathing thing,” she said.

While M. Atkinson, Starr, Atkinson and assistant fire chief Pete Armstrong all have an interest in fire and fire fighting, there are other ways to help the department.

“We are looking for support staff, and tender drivers and operators,” said M. Atkinson. “There’s a lot of things to help with that aren’t necessarily fighting fire.”

The HRVD keeps tenders stocked and ready in Pony, Norris and on Armstrong Road, but with the lack of trained volunteers, until someone from the department can get to the tender, it is a wash.

“It’s a constant challenge and just having some trained to operate those tenders and start getting water on fire while we’re trying to get there would cut our response time,” said Atkinson.

All agree the biggest issue with volunteer services is the commitment.

“I’m basically working a second job,” said Atkinson. “But when it comes to someone’s life and limb, I’m there.”

“It’s a big commitment and it’s not for everyone,” said Starr, adding staying up-to-date on certifications is a commitment in itself. “But it’s rewarding to be able to help your community.”

Read on to learn more about organizations from Ennis and the Ruby Valley, as well as what a paid service would cost the county here:

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