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The challenges of volunteering

Editor's note: A Mass. town is gaining more volunteers, and officials say it's not unusual to see an influx of people wanting to volunteer during tough economic times. Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh says volunteering in many cases is the only sustainable model to keep the town ambulance available for its citizens.

Usually we associate the poor economy with black clouds. While the circumstances are not great, this report shows the potential for a silver lining, at least for this town.

The article doesn't indicate what existed prior to the poor economy, so it's difficult to measure the level of service between then and now. Historically, most areas of the country report difficulty in recruiting and retaining volunteers for staffing EMS; if this town had experienced the same issue, then picking up new help is certainly a welcome sign. I'm hopeful that once the economy improves, the volunteers continue to help staff their essential services and provide quality care.

Volunteering in EMS is a challenge. All states require a minimum of training and education that leads to a certification. For paramedic level services, that can be well over 1200 hours. The national Education Standards for EMT indicates a program of study of about 160 hours is needed. Then you have to consider the personal equipment and uniforms; time spent away from home and family; and the hazards normally associated with the work. It's no surprise that folks have difficulty finding time to donate to EMS.

Yet volunteering is a very unique way to donate to the community. In many parts of the country, it's the only sustainable model to keep the town ambulance available for its citizens. Communities recognize this, and regard their EMS volunteers with high esteem. Until we can put together a model of emergency care that works effectively throughout the country, these systems will continue to fill a void that would otherwise exist.

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