SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — For 30 years, Brian Ring has served as an emergency medical services volunteer.
Now president of South Dakota’s EMS Association, he’s looking for ways to attract more people to become first responders. He said the need for EMS workers is “everywhere” in South Dakota.
“I’ve not heard of any service, whether it’s a career service or volunteer service, complaining about having too much staff,” Ring told KELOLAND News. “It is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days a year type deal. There’s no time off for the ambulance service itself, it’s just finding the people to staff it.”
And Ring said the need for more help is as bad as it’s ever been. He said it’s understandable many possible volunteers are busy with jobs, kids, sports and other school activities.
“It’s probably been heading in this direction for the last 20 years. There have been some challenges on the volunteer side,” Ring said. “Everybody is a lot busier than they used to be. There’s more demands on people’s time.”
South Dakota doesn’t allow EMS services for an ambulance “unless both the driver of the ambulance and the attendant on duty in the ambulance possess certification of completing an emergency care course approved by the Department of Health.”
In a video she shared on social media last week, Gov. Kristi Noem said she met with members of the EMS Association. She said the state needs “more people to volunteer to be EMS personnel across the state.”
“We want to get you the training, the equipment that you need and to feel valued,” Noem in her video.
On the topic of funding, Ring said the state could make EMS “an essential service.” That would allow for more funding opportunities through cities or counties, Ring said. He added fire and law enforcement are considered “essential services” so there’s more funding options in county and city budgets.
“There’s a lot of places that do have funding for EMS services but they don’t have to. So if the money gets tight, that’s the first thing that goes out,” Ring said.
As telemedicine continues to grow to help combat issues with rural health care, Ring said he doesn’t rule out the role of technology in helping aid some of the staffing troubles. He agreed there does need to “boots on the ground” when responding to emergencies.
He pointed to the Helmsley Charitable Trust grant which donated $3.6 million to supply 1200 Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) for first respondent services. Ring said the devices help EMS workers transmit information to hospitals on the condition of person needing help.
Ring believes there could be more marketing around EMS workers to show people what they do on a daily basis.
“We could surely use some help,” Ring said. “Nobody is getting any younger.”
In a rural state like South Dakota, Ring said recruitment and retention for both volunteers and career emergency medical technicians and paramedics has long been an issue.
He added the state’s geography plays a role in fewer EMS volunteers as well as the commitment to continue to meet education requirements. You can view the licensed ambulance services in a map below.
“Generally, we find everybody on their worst day and try to improve that,” Ring said. “It does come with a large level of stratification when you affect someone’s life in a positive way.”