Local News

Volunteer Rescue Workers May Have to Pay for Training

Posted June 13, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT

— In the case of an emergency, seconds count, and the training of the rescuers can mean the difference between life and death.

A bill working its way through thestate General Assemblycould cost both emergency workers and the victims they help.

Volunteer fire and rescue workers receive free training fromNorth Carolina's Community College System. The system says charging a per course fee will raise badly needed revenue. However, the volunteers say that is a bad idea.

It takes at least 120 hours of classroom work to become a volunteer firefighter. Add the value of the time and the risk involved, and many in the ranks think they are paying enough. The state community college system and some legislators want them to pay a little more.

"There are still a lot of variables, and still a lot of decisions being made, but the biggest increase that a volunteer fireman would face would be a $5 or perhaps a $10 fee," says Rep. Verla Insko.

It may sound like small change, but the legislature says the community college system needs $4.7 million in additional revenue. They are going to get it one firefighter and EMT at a time.

"You provide the best service you know how, and then they want to charge you for the courses," says volunteer fireman Travis Melvin. "I sort of think putting your life on the line for these people should be enough. I just don't understand their train of thought sometimes."

"What it's going to do is it's going to decrease the number of volunteers," says volunteer fire chief Robert Andrews. "We struggle now with getting enough volunteers because there's so many classes now, if they're going to have to pay for them, that makes it even worse."

Legislators say it is not fair to let emergency volunteers off the hook, when others facing tough situations also have to pay.

"There are people who are coming off welfare, like single moms trying to upgrade their skills so they can get into the work force and keep a job so they can actually support their children," Insko said.

Some volunteers say they take up to 23 classes a year, and that the fees will really add up. The fee proposal has passed theHouse, and it is now in theSenate.