518, what’s your emergency? | Editorial

Emergency and fire services in the North County need a jumpstart. The pending flashover fueled by a sagging economy alongside a cluster of fast-moving accelerants — an aging population, unfunded state mandates, tax caps, environmental regulations and an unrelenting brain drain — has left local departments on life support and grasping for their defibrillator paddles.

Considering the region faces limited opportunities for expanding its tax base, there are no easy answers — only a series of creative, common sense solutions.

Be efficient. Arizona made headlines last month with a state program launched in partnership with public and private agencies to put veterans to work. New York should follow their lead and customize their plan to fit local needs, particularly when it comes to ensuring that service members can apply their extensive military training to meet state-mandated firefighting and EMT requirements. Congress actually attempted to address this with the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act of 2013, but the bill flatlined in the Senate and remains DOA.

Start ‘em young. Mandatory state training for EMTs has skyrocketed to approximately 170 hours in recent years, with firefighters seeing an increase to 130 from 80 just a generation ago. This commitment makes it difficult to attract and retain young professionals, a serious problem as Baby Boomers continue to age out. As a stop-gap, why not offer high school and college students academic credits to ignite the flames of civic pride and spark what may lead to either a promising full-time career or lifelong contributions to the community.

Get involved. Welcome! We’re glad our seasonal friends find our communities a desirable place for recreation and relaxation. How about helping us help you to protect your health, safety, homes and families, both during the off-season and prime time, by pitching in? Opportunities range from getting involved with your local fire department or EMT squad, helping local officials in crafting sustainable policies, volunteering whenever possible or by facilitating scholarships for local high school students who wish to enter into the emergency services and firefighting fields. We’re glad you’ve made the North Country your playground — now help us pay for it.

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