"Basically, we're down to four people," said Mabel Ambulance Chief Neil Folstad.

Folstad was invited to speak to the Mabel City Council at its May 14 meeting to update the council members on the situation.

Not only is the ambulance service short staffed, but Folstad said he and Tim Mengis are largely the only ones available to be on-call during the daytime hours and have frequent 12-hour on-call shifts.

"Basically, we just have a couple people covering every run, and that is a lot on them," said City Clerk Karen Larson.

Folstad said the current crunch in ambulance volunteers is creating a strain on them professionally. Tim Mengis also must manage his business and Folstad said he, at times, has had to put the ambulance out of service to attend to his farming business.

The problem of finding volunteers for the service has been an ongoing issue.

"What else can we do? All summer, last summer, we had ads in the paper, we had 11 people go and take the EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) class. (It) came down to the day of the EMT class - five people started and two stuck with it and they are finishing their testing," Folstad said.

"We've talked about (this) before, but making people aware of how serious the situation is and how close were are to loosing our service," Larson said.

Folstad responded that if the Mabel Ambulance does not respond to too many runs, the state will jump in.

"So far we have been lucky that we've only missed two, maybe three runs," he added. "I know there are a lot of other ambulances that are loosing members left and right - but we're the only one in this area that is down to four or five people."

To make the point clearer, Folstad said one week he was on call 162 of the total 168 hours of the week. Another week he was on call 140 hours of the week.

"Even if we get three or four more people on the service it's going to help but it's still small," he added.

Council members agreed there must be another "push" made to make area residents aware of the situation.

"We need to get the word out because maybe some people don't realize how serious it is," Larson said.

Along with publishing a story in the newspaper, doing radio announcements and using local service groups to spread the word were also discussed by the council.

There is some hope. Larson reported two Mabel firefighters are interested in becoming first responders. Folstad said he has talked to the Canton and Spring Grove services and there has been some interest in their members in helping out in Mabel.

"For everybody (on the service) to be comfortable, there should be 18 to 20 people," Folstad said. "If you can't (lets) just get it up to 10 or 12."

Larson then asked at what point the city would get fined for missing runs. Folstad responded he was not sure what that point would be.

All council members agreed the service is very important to the Mabel community.

"The first 10 minutes (of a call) are the most crucial when something happens and if we don't have our own service, no one will ever get here in that 10 minutes...so it's great having one," Larson added.

"With the nursing home in town, the ambulance is a vital part to them," council member Kristen Wyffels said.

"If we don't get it (the members) we got to shut it (the ambulance) down...I don't know what else to say," said council member Terry Torkelson.

"The state would come and take our license away, and then once you loose your license you never get it back," Folstad responded.

Folstad reported that over the past few years, the service saw around 120 calls per year, which is on average about one call every three days.

Those interested in becoming first responders or EMTs can contact Mabel City Hall.