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OUR VIEW: Rural EMT crews need more help

It's about time some progress has been made to help South Dakota's ambulance crews.

South Dakota's senators voted unanimously on Tuesday to soften the state's standards for ambulance crews because of shortages of emergency responders in many rural areas.

The proposed bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives, allows crews to be operated with an EMT and a trained driver, rather than two EMTs, which is the current requirement.

A lack of fully operational ambulance crews has been an issue for some time in South Dakota, where a good portion of the population lives in rural areas and can be forced to wait too long should a medical emergency arise.

Ambulance crews around the state have held voluntary classes to get those interested in becoming an EMT certified. But becoming an EMT takes a lot of work, and that's why this proposal is a no-brainer.

Last year, an EMT training class in Corsica consisted of 176 hours inside a classroom and 10 hours observing either advanced life support ambulance services, like Mitchell, or in an emergency room scenario at a hospital. After that, an exam and 24 hours of continuing education every two years was required.

Because it is hard to get people to commit to that much training, many ambulance crews are forced to file for a hardship waiver, which means instead of operating with two certified EMTs at all times, as state law mandates, the exemption allows an ambulance service to operate with one EMT, and a driver who is certified to operate the ambulance but not perform medical care.

According to Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, 33 of the roughly 120 statewide ambulance services are on a hardship exemption. Brown explained that dozens more should be on an exemption.

And while many crews as a whole are struggling, the workload is taking a toll every day on individual EMTs, many of whom work long hours on a volunteer basis and only get paid when they respond to a medical call.

That's another reason this legislation should pass: We believe it will entice more people to help ambulance crews by becoming a trained driver and, in turn, give more support to the overworked EMTs.

Currently, there's no formal training requirements to be an ambulance driver. With the proposed bill, ambulance drivers would have to undergo some training, including a required emergency vehicle operation course.

So, this bill is clearly a win-win for EMTs and those in rural areas who need medical services.

There are too few EMTs in South Dakota, so this will at least help give more assistance to those who are on the job.

We hope lawmakers realize the importance of helping our emergency crews in any way possible, and this is a great step to do that.

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