PAXTON — The Paxton Emergency Management Agency is looking for a few dedicated men or women to serve as EMA volunteers.
The agency — which does traffic control around emergency situations such as fires or traffic accidents, among other duties — has only seven volunteers on its roster today, down from 15 two years ago.
Paxton EMA Director Ed Hanson and Paxton EMA Secretary Terry Whitebird — who also serves as the Ford County EMA’s director — hope to restore the Paxton EMA’s roster by getting the word out about the need for some extra help.
“I’d like to see between 10 and 15 again,” Hanson said.
Having a reduced roster can put the agency in a bind. Some of its seven volunteers, Whitebird noted, are not always available when needed.
“Right now, in the middle of the night, there might be two of us (available),” Hanson said.
“And during the day, there’s two of us at the most,” Whitebird said.
“The problem is,” Hanson said, “some of these people work in the health care field, so they have to have their sleep, etc.,” Hanson said.
“We need people who are dedicated and want to do this and do what’s necessary to do the job,” Whitebird said. “The biggest thing is getting people who are dedicated — people who are serious about serving.”
Any adult who lives within 5 miles of Paxton, has a valid driver’s license, can pass a criminal background check and is physically able to help is encouraged to apply to become an EMA volunteer.
Applications can be picked up at the Paxton EMA building at 134 W. State St. downtown. To arrange to pick up an application, prospective volunteers can either call Hanson at 217-202-6441 or Whitebird at 815-644-1410 or 217-379-9415. Alternatively, they can attend any of the agency’s monthly meetings, which are held at the EMA building at 6:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.
Before they can become an EMA volunteer, applicants must complete six online courses that teach them the basics of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a national emergency response framework.
Previously, the NIMS training was not required for volunteers to join the agency. Instead, they had 30 days after being put on the roster to complete the courses. The problem with that, Hanson said, was that some never did what was required.
“By doing the (application) process this way, it will show us who’s dedicated and who’s not,” Whitebird said.
Both Hanson and Whitebird said it is hard to find people to volunteer these days, but they say it is well worth it.
“You’re helping other people,” Hanson said. “When we go to a fire, we’re the fire department’s backup; we keep people away from them so they can do their job.”
“We’re out there for their safety,” Whitebird added. “The big reason why I do it is giving back. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to work in emergency service, but with the health limitations I’ve had over my life, it’s kind of prevented that. So this is the closest thing I’ll get to that.”
The Paxton EMA’s volunteers are required to attend the agency’s monthly meetings and complete required training. They also help staff various fundraisers held to support the agency, which relies only on donations and contributions from the city of Paxton.
In addition to traffic control, Paxton EMA volunteers serve as weather spotters, monitoring severe weather as it moves into the area. All seven of the agency’s volunteers are certified weather spotters, although becoming a weather spotter is not required to serve as an EMA volunteer.
The Paxton EMA also assists other agencies with search and rescue efforts. The agency currently has four volunteers certified in search and rescue, but it needs at least 10 to be able to form an official search-and-rescue unit.
Around since the 1950s, the agency is currently working to become accredited by the state and federal emergency management agencies — which is expected to happen within the next three to five years, Hanson said.
The Paxton agency’s accreditation will follow the Ford County EMA’s accreditation, Whitebird said. Whitebird said he continues to work on the county’s emergency operations plan, which must be submitted to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency for its approval by July 31 in preparation for the Ford County EMA to become accredited.
Once accredited, both the Paxton EMA and Ford County EMA will be eligible for federal grants, Whitebird noted.