Low on numbers, Cobleskill Rescue struggles to answer calls


By Jim Poole

The Cobleskill Rescue Squad needs help––lots of it.
The squad is down to just four active members and has answered only about 40 percent of its calls this year, according to Captain Fred Benninger.
“We have a lot of issues to overcome in the next month or so,” Mr. Benninger told the Cobleskill Village Board last Tuesday.
Some help will be coming in January, when the county Office of Emergency Services will provide an Emergency Medical Technician from 6am to 6pm Monday through Friday.
But the squad really needs more members. The main driver is 72 years old, Mr. Benninger said, and “I tell him don’t overdo it for your own safety.”
He said the squad “has tried everything,” include an essay contest, flyers, lawn signs and a presence during Fire Prevention Week to generate more interest, but with little or no success.
If the Cobleskill squad can’t answer a call, the private service AMR can respond. But if AMR is on another call, the patient waits.
Neighboring squads can also respond, if available.
Mayor Becky Terk said she wants to meet with Mr. Benninger, member Pete Nichols, a former member and an AMR rep to see if there’s an answer.
“Nobody wants to see it fold,” Mayor Terk said.
Mike Hartzel, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services, is willing to help and offered advice.
“It’s hard,” he said, noting that other squads have membership problems.
“You have to recruit, recruit, recruit. If you have to talk to 1,000 people to get 10, then that’s what you do.”
Although other squads have low numbers, a few have rebounded. Mr. Hartzel pointed to the Richmondville Volunteer Emergency Squad, which was on the verge of closing a few years ago.
“We went in and helped, and they’ve turned it around,” Mr. Hartzel said. “They’re answering 80 percent of their calls now.”
The same was true of the Middleburgh Emergency Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which has recovered from having few members, Mr. Hartzel said.
The perceived time commitment to volunteer turns off some potential members. However, if a squad has a strict schedule––say, a person serves just Wednesdays instead of 24/7––the commitment becomes more manageable, Mr. Hartzel said.
“If you know exactly when you’re going to be called, you can work around your family life and job,” he said. “It works.”
Mr. Hartzel also pledged to help Cobleskill, adding that he’d like to be part of Mayor Terk’s meeting.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” Mr. Hartzel said.