Pershing County residents depend on the skills of volunteer medics and firefighters but declining volunteerism is endangering critical emergency services according to fire officials. To prevent a future crisis in services, a county-wide tax hike may be needed for paid services.

A committee is researching taxation options such as a general improvement district or fire protection districts. Ultimately, voters will decide if emergency services are worth a tax hike.

Lovelock Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rodney Wilcox sounded the alarm in February. A handful of LVFD volunteers are handling most fire and ambulance calls because numerous volunteers work out of town and are not always available when needed, he told the commission.

Emergency services are in jeopardy county-wide and a solution is needed now, Wilcox said.

Volunteers proposed a combination of paid medical staff and $100 volunteer stipends. At $20 per call, local volunteers are paid a “pittance” compared to those in surrounding rural counties.



REVENUE NEEDED

At the next meeting, District Attorney Bryce Shields will explain possible tax mechanisms. Later, there could be public hearings regarding the need for a tax increase, the level of emergency fire and medical services taxpayers are willing to pay for and an equitable county-wide tax scheme.

Efficient, aggressive insurance billing for ambulance services could increase revenue. In 2019, the county got $170,000 for ambulance calls from REMSA. After switching billing services, the county got $85,000 in 2020 and $50,000 this year, Commission Chairman Larry Rackley said.

A partnership with Pershing General Hospital for ambulance services could generate more  revenue since critical access hospitals can bill for services at higher rates than fire departments.



EMERGENCY 

SERVICES 

COMPARED

Burke researched surrounding county services and said the Lovelock, Grass Valley, Imlay and Rye Patch fire departments are the only ones in the region that still depend only on volunteers.

“Lovelock is one of the only all volunteer agencies that I could find,” Burke said. “Same for the outlying departments in Pershing County.”

Nearby rural counties have various combinations of paid staff and volunteers. In Humboldt County, EMS staff are paid while firefighters are volunteers. Lander County has paid EMS staff and volunteer firefighters who get a $50 to $100 stipend per fire call, according to Burke.

“In Humboldt County, they’re EMS service is aligned with the critical access hospital and there are six separate fire districts,” he said. “In Lander County, their EMS service is aligned with the critical access hospital. The county supports capital purchases such as new ambulances or cardiac monitors. They have three fire departments in Battle Mountain, Austin and Kingston.”

White Pine County has five county volunteer fire departments, three with ambulances, and the City of Ely has a combination paid and volunteer fire and EMS service. Eureka County has an independent EMS service and six volunteer fire departments in small communities, Burke said.

“Eureka County, also a combination department, has two people paid full-time in Eureka, two in Crescent City and about 18 volunteers. Paid people work 40 hours a week and respond from home after that,” Burke told the subcommittee.

LVFD handles 350 to 400 ambulance calls and about 100 fire calls per year. Grass Valley Volunteer Fire Department handles about 65 to 70 calls per year with two-thirds of those ambulance calls according to Burke, who is Chief of the Grass Valley Fire Department. The committee had not received call volume reports from Imlay and Rye Patch fire departments.

Humboldt County gets 2500-plus calls per year, Lander County responds to 900-plus calls a year, Ely gets 900 medical calls plus 300 fire calls. Eureka County gets about 240 calls per year.

In Pershing County, volunteers get $20 per call and $150 for patient transfers. In Humboldt County, medical staff are paid. The volunteer stipend was unknown. In Lander County, EMS staff are paid and volunteers get a stipend of $50 to $100. In Eureka County, EMS staff are paid and volunteer firefighters get a stipend of $75 per fire call. In White Pine County, EMS staff are paid and volunteer firefighters get a $50 to $150 stipend per call, according to Burke’s report.

“In Eureka County, they are paying advanced EMTs $23 an hour starting and they get $75 (stipend) per call for their (18) volunteers for the ambulance service. They are spreading the love around in Eureka County...But, they are only getting about 240 emergency calls per year.”



SUPERIOR 

VOLUNTEER 

SERVICES

In his experience, Burke believes volunteers provide better service than paid professionals and the numbers “tell some interesting tales but don’t talk about the benefits of volunteer services.”

“Having worked in two paid EMS services in rural Nevada and done volunteer work, you get better service from volunteer organizations and that’s an intangible that you should never let slip from your mind,” he told the board. “I’ve seen some of the calls that Lovelock has gone on and the level of service they give to this community outstrips anything I can pay my people to do.”

Lovelock City Councilman Jonathan Reynolds, a subcommittee member, called for an immediate plan to recruit and retain more volunteer medical technicians and firefighters.

“I would like to explore what we can do right now to start to alleviate the issues with our volunteers,” he said. “Whether that’s increasing call pay, I would like to go to the county commission or the city council to make sure the issues are addressed and we can put on a small band aid until we figure this out...Something to give you fine people some relief.”

The next subcommittee meeting is May 12, 4 p.m. at the Pershing County Courthouse.