As he has been recently doing with other governmental bodies in the Bosco-bel Rescue Squad's 400-square-mile primary service area, Rescue Squad Chief Jerry Berge paid a visit to the Boscobel Common Council Monday night to give them an update on the Squad's status. And while it wasn't a story of gloom and doom, the future for rural Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers like Boscobel remains uncertain.
"I'd like to share some of the challenges we're facing," Berge told the Council. "It's pretty much a rural EMS phenomenon. We kind of start behind the eight ball when compared to more ur-ban areas."
Berge pointed out that while rural areas in this country have four-fifths of the land mass, they only have one-fifth of the popu-lation. In addition, farmers and workers in agriculture have the highest accidental work-related death rate in the nation.
"Right there you have some issues," Berge said.
Berge pointed out that the Boscobel Rescue Squad services an area containing about 7,000 people. In ad-dition to Boscobel, the Squad also services most of Marion Township, Wood-man, Wauzeka and southern portions of Crawford and Richland counties. Berge and his peers take about 400 calls per year and are on pace to hit that this year, with 320 calls made as of Monday.
Berge said the Squad's biggest two challenges are recruitment and retention of volunteers, and financing.
"We are fortunate to have had one EMT compete the class at Southwest Tech this summer and six currently taking the course right now," he said. "That's what it comes down to every day, having enough volunteers to legally staff the squad. It's challenging, and scary."
Berge explained that a legal crew consists of two li-censed EMTs, but a squad of three, including a driver, is preferable. Berge said it takes about $1,000 to train an EMT. He said the Rescue Squad currently re-ceives $4,000 annually from the city of Boscobel, as well as considerable community support for the all-volunteer, no-fee service.
"What we find in this community is an unusually high level of support, but that's changing, especially with the economy we face today," he said. "The financial challenges are great, as are the other factors."
Mayor Steve Wetter said the Boscobel Rescue Squad also faces challenges from private, for-profit ambulance services that would like to move into Boscobel, as they have in Prairie du Chien.
"We certainly don't want that to happen as long as we can continue to operate as we're currently doing," Wetter said.
"If at all possible we want to maintain a volunteer rescue squad," Berge added.
When asked about the possibility of charging peo-ple for ambulance services, Berge replied by saying, "Yes, we have considered charging for services; we're one of the few (rescue squads) in the state that doesn't. We recently brought it to a vote and it was narrowly voted down to charge for services. It's a contentious issue in this community and among our squad members."
Alderman Pete Huibregtse is a member of the Boscobel Fire Board, which charges $500 per fire call, sort of.
"Part of our discussion was people who have insurance versus people who don't," said Huibregtse. "At some point are we doing ourselves a disservice by not charging for calls because you're already paying through your insurance premiums. Do you bill the people who have insurance and not bill the people who don't?"
"You have to charge everyone if you're going to charge for service," Berge said.
"That's what we do," replied City Administrator Arlie Harris, who is also a member of the Boscobel & Rural District Fire Board. "We bill everyone. If you have insurance and they pay, fine. If you don't have insurance and can't pay, we're not going to go after you."
"It's a dilemma," said Berge, "a daunting task."