It is one job that can offer considerable excitement and great satisfaction.
“We have saved some lives,” said Chief Robert Rodgers of the Pettus Volunteer Fire Department.
First responders have the training and equipment to save a heart attack or accident victim while they are waiting for an ambulance to show up from Beeville.
“We’re trying to get a little more training for all of us and to get some younger members interested,” said Chief Joel Saenz of the Pawnee Volunteer Fire Department.
Right now, there are no certified first responders in the Pawnee department.
In nearby Pettus, the situation is a little better. Rodgers said his department has three emergency medical technicians and one certified first responder.
All of the county’s rural fire departments need more volunteers certified for the job, according to Gabriel Aleman, one of the owners of Angel Care Ambulance Service. He said his company’s staff members and ambulances provide the basic 911 emergency medical service for the county.
Aleman’s company has obtained a grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services that will pay all the costs of books, training and testing needed to certify volunteers as first responders.
That is an opportunity that does not come along often, Aleman said. He met Monday night at the Pettus VFD building to speak to fire chiefs and volunteers about the need for more certified first responders.
Michael Clevenger of Papalote desperately needs first responders, Aleman said. Right now, he would take anyone who lives anywhere south of Skidmore and Tynan.
Clevenger has been providing the service in much of the south end of the county for some time, but he needs help.
The requirements are simple, Aleman said. First responders must complete a 96-hour course that will be held at the Angel Care classroom facility, 1201 W. Corpus Christi St.
The classes will run from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. for a period of 14 Saturdays between March 2 and June 1.
Aleman said the skills a volunteer will learn will be valuable for a lifetime. First responders learn to provide basic life-saving techniques and how to stabilize a patient until the EMTs arrive with the ambulance.
“They will learn everything an EMT learns except the clinical work,” Aleman said.
“We would like to have a full class of 15 students,” Aleman said. So far, he expects to have seven volunteers for the course.
“The goal is to get patient care to the victim as soon as possible,” Aleman said.
Rodgers said it takes Angel Care about 15-20 minutes to get an ambulance to the Pettus area. And a trip to Pawnee takes even longer.
“They truly do make a difference,” Aleman said. “To me, they’re just as important as anybody in the system.”
“We’re blessed to have as many volunteers as we do,” Aleman continued. “But if we can get more, that’s even better.”
Saenz, Rodgers and Aleman all agree on the need for more younger volunteers.
Saenz said that in Pawnee, it’s hard to keep younger firemen from getting bored. Pawnee does not have a lot of fires. But the department has been able to use some grant funds and donations to equip the department with some state-of-the-art firefighting equipment.
Also, volunteers in Pawnee have been called upon to respond to some serious traffic accidents related to the increased number of trucks and cars traveling on State Highway 72. Saenz said the number of accidents has declined recently.
Of course, the Eagle Ford Shale oilfield activity has increased the need for first responders from Pettus all the way south to Papalote.
Volunteers must belong to a first responder organization. That is where membership in a volunteer fire department comes in, because those are the organizations that provide the equipment and communications.
Some of the departments have special vehicles for first responders. But it is more typical for the volunteer to provide his or her own transportation.
Aleman said the volunteers are furnished with all the medical equipment they will need and Angel Care staff members will see to it that their supplies are replaced as used.
Most of the time that can be done right at the scene of an emergency, Aleman said. All the volunteer needs to do is tell the EMT or paramedic what materials were needed, and those items can be retrieved right off the ambulance.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re a blessing to the whole community,” Aleman said.
Rodgers said some members of the Pettus department have signed up to take the course. And Saenz said he is getting some of his fire department members interested in the effort.
“It’s such an asset to the communities in the north and south,” Rodgers said of the program.
“I’ve been a volunteer in this community 40 years now,” Rodgers said. Another member of the department has 45 years of service. They would like to see some new faces in their department.
Saenz said getting new members is a familiar problem. But rural departments constantly work on keeping their members interested
“Right now, we’re trying to get a little bit more training for all of us,” Saenz said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.