We all need to pay attention to the alarming situation unfolding in Whitefield right now.
As detailed in front page articles over the last two weeks, the chief of Whitefield’s emergency medical services, one of two active providers in the town, is moving closer to his place of employment. Once he leaves, there would effectively be no one to replace him, resulting in the loss of first responders in Whitefield. A similar situation occurred in Alna in 2015, when the first responders unit no longer had enough volunteers to operate.
First responders are critical in emergency medical treatment, as they arrive at an emergency well before an ambulance, providing lifesaving treatment much earlier than would be provided otherwise.
Town officials, recognizing this would be a huge detriment to residents, scheduled a meeting to brainstorm possible solutions and came to the consensus that Whitefield needs to increase its recruiting efforts. Late in the meeting, when a select board member asked who would be willing to volunteer time to work on the problem, she was greeted with a long, pregnant silence.
The reason Whitefield’s predicament is deeply troubling is that not only could it happen in any town at Lincoln County at any given time, but volunteer staffing levels in many first responding organizations are already down, in some cases critically so.
Take a moment and consider the emergency services in your town. How many people are trained EMS providers? How many firefighters are on the rosters, and how many regularly show up to an emergency scene during the middle of the day? Can you name the fire chief or first responder director in your town?
Or do you, like many others, take for granted the fact that when you call 911 for a fire, medical emergency, or law enforcement, someone will answer and responders show up?
It’s not just fire and EMS, either. If you go to lincolncountymaine.me, the website for the county’s government, the first thing you see is an ad as big as your screen announcing that the Lincoln County Communications Center is hiring. (After all, we need someone to answer the phone when we call 911.) Just below that is a similar ad for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office.
There have been some creative solutions. Facing a staffing shortage, the LCSO initiated a hiring incentive program to draw new deputies. At a recent meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners, Sheriff Todd Brackett announced the department has only one position left to fill, which he believes is the result of the incentive.
We’re glad to see this success, and we need to find ways to duplicate it, because not having these services is not an option. Back in January, the county commissioners approved the expenditure of $46,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for training of emergency medical technicians in the county. We don’t know the outcome of this initiative yet, but we hope people took advantage of this opportunity.
In the fall we ran a series of articles about the staffing issues in local law enforcement, fire departments, and ambulance services. Every chief, provider, and town official interviewed stressed how dire of a crisis they are in. We’re going to go ahead and add our voices to the call.
If you are in any position to volunteer with your town’s fire and/or EMS first responder department or apply at the communications center, we’re begging you to do so. It’s not an exaggeration to say the lives of Lincoln County residents depend on it.