David Lavergne grew up in Indian Lake and joined the volunteer ambulance squad when he was 16.

Sometimes his mom, who was the dispatcher, would call the school and ask that David be let out so he could answer an emergency call.

Times have changed, Lavergne said, and small communities are having a harder and harder time answering calls with volunteer responders.

Lavergne is a retired Albany firefighter who lives in Gansevoort and works as the Advanced Life Support coordinator for Luzerne-Hadley EMS, a paid position.

He is also helping the Thurman emergency squad reorganize. Thurman, a volunteer squad, has been struggling to find enough people to cover its shifts, and has lost its ALS certification.

Lavergne isn't looking for another paying job in Thurman but he thinks the town, like many small communities, is going to have to start paying at least a couple of professional responders.

Finding people able to devote many hours a week to a difficult and sometimes dangerous job has been getting harder for years.

Families are busier. Fewer people can afford to put the time and energy into emergency volunteerism that it requires.

And the training has gotten more demanding. Basic EMT training takes six months, at 3 to 4 hours a night, 2 to 3 nights a week. ALS certification requires years more.

At the same time, Lavergne said, the need is growing in this area because the population is getting older. Young adults tend to leave places like Thurman, while older adults are retiring there.

Trying to save money on emergency services is problematic. Like an insurance policy, Lavergne said, you pay for it and pray you won't have to use it.

But, if you're growing old in Thurman, chances are good that emergency responders will, sometime, answer a call for you. At that point, you'll thank God the town spent the money for a paid staff.

Here's the dilemma, not only in Thurman, but in many communities, small and large, in New York and elsewhere. When money is tight, it seems to make sense to spend as little as possible.

And, often, we don't have much choice. Gov. Paterson isn't laying off hundreds of state workers because he dislikes them but because New York is broke.

The problem is, you often end up farther behind by spending less. With the Thurman emergency squad and many other public expenditures, saving money means losing much more.

Will Doolittle is projects editor of The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on Twitter at @trafficstatic.

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