The Franklin County Emergency Services Alliance asked county commissioners Tuesday for their support in a grant application to the state Department of Community and Economic Development for a study evaluating the volunteer system.
The board unanimously approved a resolution in support of the request.
"It doesn't obligate the county financially, but it does express our support of it," explained Commissioner David Keller.
The alliance was formed about a decade ago to provide guidance to fire and EMS services across the county.
"As you know, volunteers have diminished over the years," Shawn Corwell, chairman of the alliance. "We believe we are at the point where we need to look ahead to the future and ... see what we can do to keep it from diminishing more."
Corwell said the challenges of local emergency services are not unique to Franklin County. Other state and national communities are also facing a shortage of volunteers.
"Right now in Franklin County, we have a shortage of paramedics and EMTs. We cannot get qualified people to apply for the jobs," Corwell said.
Commissioner Robert Ziobrowski asked whether the opioid crisis has had an effect on volunteers' morale and whether the study would address that issue.
"We did not put that in the study, however that is having an effect," Corwell replied. "You bring them back and they get angry and then, two days later, you're bringing them back again. That is affecting morale, but it's not part of the study."
The DCED grant would survey emergency services countywide on things such as recruitment and retention and cost savings options.
"There are numerous things we'd like to look at," Corwell said.
Corwell said there is no particular grant amount he is aware of. "We're hoping DCED will fund if not all of the study, a majority of it."
He said if DCED approves the grant, it would also contract with an organization that would complete the survey.
If the alliance fails to be approved for grant funding, Corwell said members plan to move forward on their own.
"We're hoping to get the grant and get DCED to help us with it, or we're going to run [a study] on our own and would ask municipalities to help fund it," he said.
Corwell said a timeline for potential grant approval or the study was not available.