BEDFORD, Va. -

Responding to an emergency gives Peter Simmons a rush.  It's kept him behind the wheel of an ambulance for 25 years.

"It makes you feel good," said Simmons, a volunteer for the Goode Rescue Squad in Bedford County.  "I enjoy doing something for my own community."

Simmons is an experienced, trained medical technician who's willing to work for free; something that's becoming increasingly hard to find.

"I have the advantage that I'm still fairly fit and I'm retired, so I have the time," Simmons said.

Time is something his counterparts, both young and old, don't seem to have.

In 2010, there were around 750 people volunteering for Bedford County's fire and rescue agencies.  Now that number is less than 500.

Part of the drop is due to the fact that county leaders have stopped counting non-active volunteers.

Chief Jack Jones says there's a reason those formerly active members have stopped responding to calls.

"We're busy with sports, second jobs, people in school, and all of the other requirements based on the economy," said Jones, who manages Bedford County Fire and Rescue.

The problem isn't unique to Bedford County.  Nationally, the number of medical volunteers has dropped 7% since 2001.  The number of volunteer fire fighters has dropped 18% over the last 30 years.

According to Jones, part of the problem is stricter training requirements on the state and national level.  In Virginia, a volunteer medical technician complete 154 hours of classroom instruction and clinical rotations.

"That's a four month commitment for training, before you can even be on an ambulance," Jones said.

Many volunteers get their training on a college campus.  Classes at Central Virginia Community College allow students to get their EMT certification while earning an associate's degree.

It's a way for first responders to recruit young people; a group that's often hard to attract.

"We will take all comers, for the most part, but it is hard, demanding labor and we need that young workforce," said Jones, who believes more young adults would volunteer, if training requirements were reduced.

"People who argue against that point say 'oh, you want to dumb it down'," said Jones.  "That's not what we want to do.  We want more appropriate training standards."

Lisa Aiken, who both trains EMT's and works in the industry full-time, says there's no way to cut back on training without sacrificing patient care.

"Patient care is number one," Aiken said. "These people need the education and the tools so they can learn how to take care of sick and injured patients."

Jones believes patient care is already at risk.  As the number of volunteers dwindle, the demand for service is growing rapidly.

"Many years ago in Bedford County, an ambulance call every two days it was a big deal," said Jones.  "Currently, we'll probably have 10,000 ambulance calls this year."

Bedford County supplements its volunteers with paid staff, a common practice in many localities, but Jones says it can never fully replace volunteers.

"A fully career model is not what we want and not what we can afford," said Jones.

Jones says there's no magic solution to the problem.  Like many communities, Bedford is stepping up recruitment efforts to attract more volunteers like Simmons.

"A lot of people say they can't do it," said Simmons.  "I think they could."

And for the sake of public safety, he hopes they will.