Bayfield County maintenance supervisor Craig Parks and other emergency services workers were called early Thursday morning to a car crash.
No one was injured. But had the call been serious, Parks and the other volunteers would have stayed on the scene, taking all the time they needed to save lives and clear wreckage — even if it meant being late for work.
The fear of losing time at work may deter some people from volunteering, leading Bayfield County to establish policies for its employees to make it easier and more financial feasible for them to report to a call.
For several years municipalities in the county have remarked that it’s difficult to recruit new volunteer emergency workers, said Mark Abeles-Allison, county administrator.
The policy pointed to a state statute that protects workers should they need to remain at an emergency that begins before their working hours, although it’s not necessary for the employer to pay them.
And those calls are common enough. Park said commuting hours between 7 and 8 a.m. can yield car crashes more than a few times a year.
The county also said volunteer responders can report to emergencies during their work shift under certain guidelines, such as the approval of their supervisor.
Parks, who is a supervisor, said workers have to use their discretion if an emergency arises during work hours, but a life-threatening situation trumps any qualms about whether or not to respond.
Finally, county workers can be compensated for up to four hours of response time per month, and take vacation or make up work hours to lessen the financial burden of volunteering.
The county hopes — as one of the larger employers in the Bayfield Peninsula — to encourage other businesses to implement policies giving workers who volunteer greater flexibility, Abeles-Allison said.
Bayfield Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeff Boutin agreed that finding volunteers can prove difficult.
Volunteer firefighters must possess the same level of training as the professionals, he said. Although the Bayfield Fire Department has money in its budget for training expenses that the state doesn’t pick up, attending classes still requires a time commitment.
Boutin said as an assistant chief he would want all the help he could get during an emergency, and as an employer he would never dock a worker for responding.
In Washburn, Fire Chief Mike Pedersen said some departments in the area have trouble finding volunteers, but not so much his department.
This winter Pedersen guided five volunteers through a training session at the Fire Hall, and for the most part, the Fire Department sees little turnover as many volunteers have been on the roster for decades.
Parks, who has worked for the county for years both as a salaried and hourly employee, said the county has been supportive and so was his previous employer, who always let him off work to respond to an emergency and sometimes paid him for calls.