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Volunteerism: “It’s definitely going away.”

PIERRE, SD – Legislators on an interim committee heard about issues finding and keeping volunteer first responders.

Appearing before the “Mental Health of First Responders” Task Force, Jerome Harvey, Fire Administrator for Pennington County said finding volunteers has become much more difficult.

“We haven’t grasped the reality that we’re past the tipping point as far as volunteerism is concerned. It’s definitely going away,” said Harvey.  “I’ve talked about this before but I’ts more serious than we’ve been able to admit to ourselves.”

People from all over the country are moving to the state and Black Hills. Harvey says that is having an impact on their numbers and services.

“Inviting the entire world to come live with us in South Dakota is not working,” he said. “It’s creating additional workloads on our people. We do not have the infrastructure in emergency services to support the influx that is going on now and into the future.”

He added, “The people who are coming to live here are not people who join volunteer fire and ambulance services. It’s a foreign concept to them and they don’t understand it.”

Senator V.J. Smith of Brookings says its another area where legislators have to help find a solution.

“We have a situation that we’re facing.  And it’s not unique to South Dakota. It’s  everywhere,” said Smith.  “If we can develop a program to make some type of assistance available to encourage people to be a part of a volunteer fire and/or EMT service, I think it’s worth a look.”

Smith says the legislature may have to find funding to pay volunteers at least a small stipend to keep them involved.

The task force took no formal action.

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