WHITE LAKE - About 40 years ago, Troutland Rescue Squad started shuttling patients from the White Lake area to the hospital in Antigo.
Troutland is about to make its last run. It simply can't find enough volunteers to serve as EMTs.
This fall, the city of Antigo took over primary responsibility for calls in this part of rural Langlade County.
Troutland President Jim Summerford said a lack of volunteers isn't a local problem or a state problem. It's national.
Summerford knows just about every person he treats around White Lake.
"It's sort of like you're treating family. We're a real tight-knit area, community here. I would say I know about 90 percent of the people [to whom I respond]," he said.
Summerford just wishes he could get more of those people to volunteer for Troutland Rescue. He's seen volunteers in the White Lake area dwindle to just a few dedicated members.
"It's not a volunteer community or world anymore," Summerford said. "Younger kids go to bigger cities for a job, and they're just not here to help out."
The city of Antigo ambulance service has been helping to fill the void by sending its teams to calls for more than a year. This fall, it took over service completely.
Antigo staffs its ambulances at all hours. But it's 22 miles away.
"The future is not grim. We're still out here. We're still going to take care of you," said White Lake Village President Joe Grennell.
Grennell said the remaining Troutland volunteers will serve as first responders in the area. They can't transport patients, but can provide care until Antigo arrives.
"If I have [first responders] out here, they're going to get to your house faster," Grennell said. "They're going to take care of you and get you ready to go in the ambulance."
Grennell heard worries from his community about the change. But he's worked with Antigo Fire Chief Jon Petroskey to smooth the transition.
"We're not like, it's going to be 30 minutes and everybody's going to die and this world is coming to an end," Petroskey said. "I think it's all going to be relevant and very similar to what they've been seeing."
"A lot of people had concerns, but I think they're starting to see the big picture now, [thinking], 'Well, it's not going to be that much longer. A minute, two minutes here and there,'" Summerford agreed. "Their response time is going to be really good, and we'll continue getting a good quality care with them."
Summerford admits Troutland's exit from ambulance service isn't ideal.
But the structure in place is better than nothing.
"If we don't have Antigo coming, there's going to be nobody. A little bit of a delay is better than no one," Summerford said.
Petroskey is confident the system will work just fine. He's more worried about the overall landscape of volunteering.
"It's scary stuff," the Antigo Fire Chief said. "The volunteerism, whether you're in the EMS and fire industry, or if you're in the Optimist Club, or the local Lions Club, volunteers in general are kind of falling apart."
Troutland Rescue is responding to 140 calls a year right now. This month, it will give its ambulance to Antigo for its use.