Ind. VFD hires four full-time staff, secures EMS partnership to supplement gaps

Two of the new crew members are EMTs, which will assist Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Department since a bulk of their runs require EMS


Aprile Rickert
The Evening News and the Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind.

CLARK COUNTY — The Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Department is taking steps to improve services in a time when there are fewer volunteers to serve the growing coverage area.

The department recently hired three full-time staff who will be in the fire stations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday though Friday, ready to respond to any calls for service in the 55-square-mile coverage area that includes Henryville, Underwood and the majority of Champion's Pointe Golf Course.

Left to right: New Chapel EMT Amber Durham, FF Tony Brock, Lieutenant Guy Stoffregen, Battalion Chief Eddie Cissell.
Left to right: New Chapel EMT Amber Durham, FF Tony Brock, Lieutenant Guy Stoffregen, Battalion Chief Eddie Cissell. (Photo/MTVFD)

The full-time crew consists of two firefighters with emergency medical training, and a third to work with a New Chapel staff member who will be available with an ambulance ready during those business hours. Volunteers with the department, which has about 30 firefighters total, will respond as available.

Monroe Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mark Furnish, who's been in fire service for close to 40 years, said the change was necessary as increased certification requirements and other life demands have shrunk the pool of people willing and able to serve their communities as volunteer firefighters. The pilot program with his department started last week; he said hopes to eventually grow that to have paid staff on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We think it's going to be very beneficial to our community," he said. "The fire department just wants to do anything we can to try to make our community a safer and better place to be."

A big part of the improvements to services is the secured EMS piece. Furnish said that of the roughly 300 runs the department makes a year, only about four are for working structure fires within the district, although they do assist neighboring departments such as the Tri-Township Fire Protection District in mutual aid. A bulk of the runs, about 200 a year, require EMS.

That's why Furnish said the partnership with New Chapel — which at this stage is a verbal agreement — as well as having fulltime staff during the week with EMT or first responder certification is crucial to getting assistance to the people that need it.

He said years ago when Clark County had its own EMS service, there was a unit stationed in Monroe Township ready to respond. That changed with the subsequent providers, which in Clark County was most recently Yellow Ambulance. Furnish said New Chapel often helped in responding even then.

"We try to give our community the best service we can give them and I think we do that on the fire side; what was lacking was [EMS]," he said, adding that with the previous service "we've had instances where we would be doing CPR on a person for 30 minutes waiting on an ambulance unit to get there. We had a time where our [AED] unit shocked a person 13 times waiting on EMS to get there.

"If you or your loved one lived in Monroe Township and was having a heart attack, you're going to wait 20 to 30 minutes for an ambulance and it's just not acceptable. If we can get the response time down to 10 minutes instead of 20 to 35 minutes, that's going to be a big benefit for our community."

Funded through a fire protection district, the department receives just under $300,000 a year for operations. To make way for the paid positions, and the fully-equipped Dode Ram rescue vehicle they'll use, Furnish said they paid off debts on some of the company properties.

The chief said the increased need to have a secure staff during the week follows nationwide trends in a decline of volunteers, who are the bulk of firefighters.

A 2020 report from the National Fire Protection Association shows that in 2018, there were 1.1 million firefighters in the U.S., 67% or about 745,000 were volunteers; the remaining 350,000 or 33% were career or paid staff.

Of the 29,705 departments operating in 2018, 64% (19,122) were all volunteer, 18% (5,206) were mostly volunteer, 10% (3,009) were all career and 8% (2,368) were mostly career.

To be a volunteer firefighter in Indiana, an individual needs either a Firefighter I or II certification, which the chief said can take about as long as a college course.

"The thing with the fire department is when people don't know what else to do, they call the fire department," he said. "The fire department has to be trained in so many things — auto extraction, hazmat...it's not all fighting fires. As a matter of fact, fighting fires is probably the least amount of things that the fire department does now."

He said there may be fewer people putting in the time for those increased certifications, and that it's getting "harder and harder to find people that want to help donate their time to the community and then be able to come and do the amount of training that's required to ride on a truck," he said. "You can't just sign up today and tonight be on a truck."

A Facebook post by the department said volunteers still will respond to supplement the paid staff and during the off hours, and New Chapel still will respond outside of the 8-to-5 hours, just from a different part of the county.

"We hope that this progressive and forward-thinking approach will ensure that the citizens of Monroe Township always have the level of service that MTVFD has provided over the last 72 years," the post said.

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(c)2021 The Evening News and The Tribune (Jeffersonville, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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