Editorial: It may take money to get people to help

By: Mae Rhine
   West Amwell has been presented with the opportunity to join the state’s Length of Service Awards Program that "rewards" emergency services firefighters.
   The program gives longtime and active firefighters — those with at least seven years of active service — $1,000 a year. As West Amwell Fire Department member Harry Heller said, it gives a "pat on the head" for those who have worked hard over the years.
   And it may attract new volunteers.
   It’s a shame, however, it may take money to get people to give up a few hours of their time.
   The Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance and Rescue Squad is one example of a primarily volunteer organization struggling to do its job — rescuing residents of the area. Despite all it does for the community, it just can’t find people willing to give up the time to help.
   Its ranks have dwindled to about 20. Of those 20, two are on leave in school, one is in the service and two are pregnant, leaving 15 to cover the 1,200 to 1,300 calls the squad gets every year.
   That’s spreading those volunteers pretty thin — about 144 six-hour shifts for the volunteers for the squad that must be available 24-7, according to President Robert Brown.
   Perhaps Lambertville should consider the same idea of "rewarding" its volunteers if that’s what it will take to get people to help.
   However, making the program retroactive is rough on taxpayers. If all 20 West Amwell firefighters are eligible, for example, it would have to shell out $100,000 the first year — 20 firefighters at $1,000 each for five years of past service.
   And Lambertville has four fire departments as well as its share of the squad’s expenses.
   Still, something has to be done, and it looks like cash is the only thing that may help, whether it be a $1,000 stipend or adding paid members to emergency services.