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First responders ask for funding

New London Area First Responder April Schimke, right, compares notes with a Gold Cross EMS staff member at the scene of a fire at 1508 Cedar St. in March. The volunteer group responds to several calls daily. John Faucher Photo

New London volunteers seek city aid

By Scott Bellile

The all-volunteer New London Area First Responders requested aid from city officials who were surprised to learn the group is driven by donations.

“I thought you guys were state- and county-funded,” Mayor Mark Herter told them.
“Not a lot of people know [we are not], so that’s part of our plan is to get the word out,” said Tiffany Strey, director for the first responders.

The nonprofit New London Area First Responders asked the city to begin providing annual monetary assistance at a pair of Finance and Personnel Committee meetings on Feb. 8 and April 5.

Fundraisers, grants and donations provide the income to pay for training, equipment and medications.

“There is no guarantee of funding through any of these means and it makes budgeting difficult,” the first responders stated in a memo. “Equipment wears out and medical supplies are consumed. If we do not raise enough funds, we limit our spending.”

The group started 2023 with about $16,500 in cash on hand.

Its projected income and expenditures this year are $4,248 and $7,537, respectively.

Volunteers are paged at their homes and workplaces to assist the sick and injured throughout New London, Mukwa, and parts of Lebanon, Liberty and Maple Creek, first responder Jeff Handschke said.

They arrive on scene in their personal vehicles and collect information, stabilize patients and provide emotional support before Gold Cross Ambulance Service arrives, the memo states.

2-3 calls daily

Last year, the first responders received 887 pages for assistance, averaging two to three per day.

Besides responding to 911 calls, they offer blood pressure clinics and work sporting events, parades and other community activities.

The first responders also relieve the fire department by handling all calls for lift assistance, allowing firefighters to focus on structure fires and automobile crashes. Falls and lift assistance comprised nearly one-fifth of the first responders’ pages in 2022.

The first responders have 11 volunteers on their roster, all EMS-licensed. Equipment is available for 14, so the group does not seek money to furnish new recruits, Handschke said.

However, costly recurring expenses include workers’ compensation, liability insurance and life-saving medications naloxone and epinephrine, which are replaced yearly at around $40 per dose, Handschke said.

“We’re not really looking for a ton of money, but it’d be nice to have some,” Handschke said, suggesting the city give 25 to 50 cents per New London resident.

The U.S. Census Bureau states the population is 7,320, which could put an annual donation at $1,830 to $3,660.
The first responders receive donations of $500 per year from Lebanon and $1,000 to $1,500 from Mukwa every one to two years, Handschke said.

Payments would not be requested from municipalities in years the nonprofit group felt financially secure, Handschke said.

City officials appeared receptive to the idea.

“I think it’s a great plan,” Herter said.

City Finance Director Judy Radke told the first responders to return with a proposed amount before the 2024 budget is set in September.

Ald. Bernie Ritchie Jr., who brought the matter before the committee, said the first responders work hard and pay some costs individually to serve, so ensuring financial stability for the organization could improve retention.

“Sometimes it takes 20 minutes for Gold Cross to get on a scene, and the only thing we’ve got is first responders,” Ritchie said. “And I feel as though if we don’t do something, we’re going to lose what [volunteers] we have, and it’s a hard enough time now getting people to do it.”

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