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Officials: Ontario County has a looming volunteer first responder problem

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  • Staff Report 

Ontario County officials are examining trends in a new report on volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) in the area. While the report is not suggesting any major changes for fire departments and emergency medical services at present, officials said that the concerning trends will need to be addressed at some point.

Victor Supervisor Jack Marren spoke on the issue, saying that the lack of volunteer firefighters and the 41% decline in EMTs in the county is likely to continue, and that “down the road we will have to look” at addressing those concerns.

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The report was compiled by the consulting firm Center for Governmental Research, which oversaw a public safety member survey that received almost 420 responses from area firefighters, EMS personnel, and others. Among the report’s key findings was a decline in active membership among volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel. While many fire department leaders believe that the volunteer model serves their communities well, they admitted that active membership has declined in recent years or is flat. Volunteer age was also a concern, with many members in their 50s and 60s, younger recruits in their late teens and 20s, but limited membership in between.

EMS leaders acknowledged a decline in certified EMTs in the county from over 500 in 2017 to only 300 five years later. Independent agencies were cited as a problem in competing for response areas, and there were concerns raised about the response times of primary EMS agencies.

While neighboring Wayne and Yates counties have begun establishing countywide ambulance services, Ontario County officials said they are not committing to that, or consolidating fire districts and departments.

Instead, Marren and Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Campbell hope to get feedback on the report from fire/EMS agencies for future discussions that will include Jeff Harloff, the county’s fire coordinator and director of emergency management.