The need for volunteers in local fire departments and ambulance services is simple, according to Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager.

"People want to feel protected," he said. "Volunteers make the difference between life and death."

North Dakota has traditionally relied on volunteers to staff the fire departments and ambulance services especially in rural areas, Bergquist said. For the fire departments, that is a tradition that goes back to the late 1800s. The Jamestown Fire Department, for example, has roots that go all the way back to 1884, according to the city of Jamestown website.

Ambulance services are a newer addition to the roster of first responders but also have a long history of utilizing people who step away from their regular job in the community to train for, and respond to, health and accident emergencies.

If the number of volunteers dwindles, the services dwindle. Communities are better off for these services, Bergquist said.

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"There is no way you can actually pay for it," he said. "The benefits of a reduced tax burden because of the volunteers and the safety they bring is incalculable."

Unfortunately, fewer people are volunteering. The Jamestown Fire Department has up to 10 vacancies for volunteers. Other fire departments in the region are also short handed. Many of the volunteer ambulance services are also feeling the pinch of an aging rural population with fewer people willing to step forward and serve.

Bergquist said the threats of fire and medical emergencies are still out there.

"If you have a fire or medical call, you need a volunteer," he said. "It's just harder and harder to get volunteers."