By WILLIAM CLARK
Neptune is hoping to recruit and retain volunteer members of its Emergency Services ranks by paying them for their service.
The Township Committee approved a resolution at this week’s meeting that would provide reimbursement to Emergency Medical Service volunteers.
Those who dedicate six hours will be provided with a $60 payment. Volunteers can also commit to nine or 12-hour shifts. Each three hour block increases payments by $30.
Committeeman Nicholas Williams said that this is intended to cut down response times in the event that EMS personnel are needed at the scene of an emergency. Williams said that volunteers that get the call have to make their way from their home to the facility, get prepared with necessary equipment and head to the scene. Now, having members of the crew staffed at the facility will allow EMS members to immediately react.
In addition, Williams said that the more members on call will increase the amount of vehicles able to respond when “stacked calls,” or calls that come in quick succession of each other, come in.
Williams said that volunteer numbers dipped after the Covid-19 pandemic so this is an incentive to retain volunteer members with hopes that it increases enrollment.
Emergency Management Coordinator Michael Bascom said that between reducing the four EMS sites down to three in tandem with increasing need and decreasing volunteers, the program is necessary. Bascom said the shortage is a nationwide issue but particularly acute in New Jersey due to a large volunteer EMS program within the state.
This could help offset some of the financial burden that volunteers bear.
“The theory being that they are already volunteering their time, they shouldn’t have to spend money out of their pocket as well,” Bascom said.
Some of the costs associated are maintenance and gas for personal vehicles and meals.
Federal regulations say that reimbursement can take place at the cost of up to 20 percent of what it would cost to employ a paid staffer, Bascom said. This is where the $60 rate was determined.
“It’s really supplementing career staff,” he said.
Bascom said the fire department began a similar program earlier this year.
One necessity of the program is the changing availability of people willing to volunteer.
“Unlike the old days where the world was OK with everyone pretty much dropping what they were doing and running out to a call … volunteers don’t find that works for them as much,” Bascom said.
People are willing to help, but during set days and hours.
Business Administrator Gina LaPlaca said that the funds for the program come from the American Rescue Plan.