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Western Vilas County communities pool resources to combat EMS shortage


Fire Departments in western Vilas County call the current EMS situation a crisis.

There are not enough medical first responders to quickly respond to calls. The situation is not unique to that area or even the region.

If she could, Jessie Mabie would take at least five volunteer EMTs today for the Manitowish Waters Fire Company.

“The biggest problem we have is that all of our staff works during the day. We don’t have a lot of coverage during the day,” said Mabie.

Like many fire and EMS departments in the Northwoods, the departments in Manitowish Waters, Winchester, Boulder Junction, and Presque Isle all depend on volunteers.

And right now, they’re all in desperate need of people to volunteer.

It’s adding more stress to the people who are already volunteering.

“It’s hard to be unavailable, as silly as that sounds. If you have to go to the grocery store and there’s a call in your hometown, you feel guilty for not being there for your community, but you can only do so much,” said Mabie. “Thankfully we’ve all been pretty good about kind of being able to jump in and cover each other, but that’s not sustainable. We have to figure something better out.”

As the EMS Service Director for Manitowish Waters Fire Company, Mabie recognizes the challenges. It’s a volunteer position. It’s not an easy job. And there’s a lot of training involved.

"It's not an easy class. I'm not going to lie. It’s time consuming. There’s a lot of hands on stuff you have to do. It takes up two days of your week and then a couple of Saturdays. There’s continuing education you have to do,” said Mabie.

Mabie says her department will work with anyone who is interested in volunteering to make it happen.

And while these departments continue to put out calls for volunteers, that’s not all they’re doing.

Right now, when one department is short volunteers to cover a shift, the others will help fill in the gap.

“That could be one person from Boulder Junction and one person from Winchester. They will take the call say here in Manitowish Waters. It absolutely delays a little, but we are doing the absolute best that we can with the resources that we have at this time,” said Mabie.

The departments and their towns have also pooled their resources to hire a firm to dive into the heart of the problem and come up with possible solutions.

It’s still in its early stages.

The group held its first community meeting this week.

“The Tuesday meeting went very well. We had about 75 people present from the communities. People learned a lot of things they didn’t know at these meetings. People weren’t really aware of the crisis that we’re in because they don’t have to call 911 very often. It’s not that it was ever a secret. It’s just that if you’re not involved in EMS you don’t understand what’s happening,” said Mabie.

The firm will continue to gather information from the four communities before giving them several options for possible solutions to the EMS shortage.

In the meantime, Mabie says if you’re interested in volunteering, please reach out to the fire department for more information.

Mabie also encourages people to get involved with their local fire department and ambulance service to be informed on what is happening near you.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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