Silver Lake is in desperate need of trained emergency medical technicians to keep their ambulance service alive.
"If we do not get enough EMT's, Silver Lake will no longer have its own ambulance," according to a letter sent to residents detailing the dire situation. "Losing our local ambulance will mean that or area will then likely be serviced by ambulances from Hutchinson and Glencoe — lengthening response times."
Silver Lake ambulance chief Ashley Ardolf-Mason elaborated on the problem.
"The hope is that (Silver Lake residents) still have our first responders, they just don't have as much training as an EMT does," she said. "So yeah, there's going to be longer wait times. Right now our average time is about a 5-10 minute wait. You're going to be looking at — depending on if there's a truck in the area — you could be waiting a couple hours."
She said if they don't have any applicants soon, the ambulance service could end as early as next spring, but added that it was more likely to end in the fall of 2020.
Silver Lake is not alone in facing this shortage of qualified EMTs. It's a problem many rural Minnesota towns face.
"Everywhere is struggling," Ardolf-Mason said. "I spoke with the Ridgeview director, and he said they were having problems as well with staffing."
Qualified EMTs must complete college courses to become state certified in Minnesota. Ridgewater College offers an EMT program that takes approximately six months to finish.
"More often than not, people will just go to the colleges because typically it's a blended learning course," Ardolf-Mason said. "People go in one or two days a week and the rest is online."
The Silver Lake ambulance service currently has 15 EMT's in its ranks, a few of whom are scheduled to retire soon. EMT's working with Silver Lake operate on a scheduled and standby basis. Standby EMT's are there to fill in the gaps in coverage should they be needed. Those who are on call also receive compensation for time spent on ambulance runs.
"It's a passion someone would have to have to do this kind of work," Ardolf-Mason said. "It's something you're called to. Everyone on the crews, I mean, they're all willing to help each other out. You all support each other. ... It's not our full-time job. We all have full-time jobs in addition to doing this volunteer work. It's not easy, but like I said, it's a passion."
Since the ambulance service began looking for recruits, only two new EMTs have been hired. The service is hoping to attract several more, unfortunately many candidates believed they were not ready yet or are waiting for next year. According to the letter, however, there might not be a next year.
"Once the service is discontinued, it will be gone forever," it said.
The silver lining is that if the ambulance service receives enough volunteers actively interested becoming an EMT and taking classes, then it would be able to stay in service while they complete the necessary training requirements.
More EMT classes are scheduled to begin this fall. Candidates must be at least 18 years old, live within 7-8 minutes of the Silver Lake City Hall and pass a background check. If you or someone you know is interested, call the city at 320-327-2412 for more information.