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Valuing volunteer responders

Editor's note: This story is in response to the recent news piece, "NJ EMTs respond to proposed tightening of state regulations." Volunteer emergency medical technicians are worried that they will lose members and find it difficult to recruit new ones due to a bill currently being debated in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate. Tell us what you think in the member comments.

Many in the EMS community believe that the days of good-hearted volunteers paying for the privilege of running EMS calls has long been over, perhaps the exception being the super-rural areas. The reactions expressed by the people interviewed in this article really strike at the core issues of whether EMS can ever leave its status as a "hobby" or "something I do in my spare time."

In this article, the president of a volunteer rescue squad expresses concern that the department may not be able to attract new members if the initial training increases from 110 to about 150 hours of training.

In addition, there is pending state legislation that will require two EMTs to staff the ambulance, not just an EMT and a driver. Later on he notes that it's already a challenge to find the time to volunteer. "People are busier these days,” he states in the article.

Clearly I can understand that, perhaps in the rural aspects of this country, without volunteers to answer the call there would be no EMS.

In the same areas, there is an overall lack of health care services, so this all makes sense. But it's becoming difficult to defend the use of a volunteer emergency health care system that services a fairly affluent suburb with a large population base.

The current national education standards recommend at least 150 hours of training and a structured clinical experience for primary EMT training. In the majority of the country, ambulances are staffed with two EMTs at a minimum. I couldn't imagine that the communities being served in this article would expect any of its EMS responders to be lesser trained, or their units to be lesser staffed than the national level.

Please, don't think I'm beating up on volunteers. Far from it. I started as a volunteer in the 1980s; I have donated my time to train volunteers since then. I continue to volunteer my time for causes. It's a noble thing to do. It's just that it may be time for communities to consider the value of their volunteer responders and the level of response that is being provided.

If a community believes that it is best served by its volunteers, then provide the ability for citizens to volunteer — tax breaks, on call compensation, anything that can make it easier.

Don't just lower the standard just because it's volunteers. That's demeaning.

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