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State legislators looking for solutions to lack of volunteers, funding for rural EMS services

Posted at 7:50 PM, Nov 10, 2023

TEKEMAH, Neb. (KMTV) — Kyle Walton is a man who wears many hats.

His full-time job is with the Burt County Public Power District but when the rescue calls come in, Kyle springs into action.

“I would say in all departments the EMTs, everyone, is getting older. They aren’t getting a lot of younger members joining. Fortunately we do but that is a 180 course it’s a lot of commitment,” said Walton.

Unlike many other rescue squads in rural Nebraska, Tekemah is nearly full staffed, with over 40 firefighters and EMTs, and the county also regularly upgrades its ambulances and equipment.

It's something that veteran Tekemah EMT Leo Oligmueller is thankful for.

“Usually we are sitting pretty good for Tekemah anyway on the number of people who get on. It’s up and down but we are almost to the peak, we can have up to 50 members if we are clear full and we are close to that now,” said Oligmueller.

Getting new blood into these aging departments is a challenge the state is looking to overcome.

A legislative hearing in October brought in several testifiers who warned that if the state doesn’t take action, many rural crews will continue to struggle.

“Whether that’s financially or whether its regulatory processes, that is yet to be seen, but it is going to be one of those public-private collaborations that ultimately wins the day would be my guess,” said Jed Hansen with the Nebraska Rural Health Association.

The solutions to bolster Nebraska’s rural EMS crews are still being studied but Oligmueller and the Nebraska Rural Health Association agree that more support for first responders will encourage more to step up to help their communities.

“I know it’s supposed to be all volunteer but it gets pretty tough to volunteer your time, especially during the day. If you got a job in town you take off, our hospital is about 20 miles south of here in Blair. You might as well figure the call will run you out a good hour away from work at least,” said Oligmueller.

Like all first responders Walton and Oligmueller are always ready when the call comes in and right as we wrapped up our interview, they were called into action, putting their lives on hold to help their neighbors.