Virginia Beach, Va. (WTKR) - Virginia Beach Emergency Management Services is looking for ways to recruit more volunteers after several years of declining numbers.
Virginia Beach boasts the largest volunteer-based rescue system in the country.
"When you see an ambulance going down the street, 94% of those folks are volunteers," interim EMS Chief Ed Brazle told NewsChannel 3's Todd Corillo Wednesday.
In 2010, the department had 772 qualified volunteers among its ranks. Last year, the number was down to 525.
"We've seen a decline over the past three years as we’ve come out of the Great Recession. We've seen our numbers drop and even over the past year about a 3% decline in our qualified members," Brazle stated.
While there are still plenty of volunteers to respond to emergencies, the decline is not a trend the department wants to see continue.
"The sky is not falling, but we do need to look at that decline because call volumes are continuing to go up. We need to stabilize and grow our volunteer ranks for the future," Brazle said.
Pharmacist Kitrian Meagher started volunteering with the Plaza Volunteer Rescue Squad in 2013. She says what she gets out of the experience is unbeatable.
"Whenever you can help anybody, no matter what their situation is, they’re very grateful and you know in some small way -even if you just hold their hand -that you’ve helped them," she shared with Corillo Wednesday.
In order to recruit more volunteers like Meagher, the department recently revamped the way people can apply to become volunteers.
"We’re trying to be more welcoming. More immediately responsive. Under our old system, you had to sign up to come to an orientation. It might be 3 weeks before you could come in. Well when someone calls us they want to come in now," Brazle stated.
Now the entire system has been streamlined online, with potential volunteers called and offered a chance to ride along in an ambulance almost immediately.
The department is also looking to hire a paid position within the next fiscal year budget to focus on recruitment efforts.
"The community can be confident in our services. We’re providing a great level of staffing today and skilled responders. We’re just trying to be proactive to maintain and grow the system for the future," Brazle said.
For a direct link to apply to be on a volunteer rescue squad, click here.