How do I volunteer as an EMT?

Whether you're new to EMS or taking a break from full-time work, here's how you can become a volunteer EMT

By EMS1 Staff

Maybe you’re not working as an EMT, but you’d still like to give back to your community in a very real, necessary way. Depending on where you live, dedicating a few hours a month as a volunteer could be the way to do that.

Whether you’re brand new to EMS or just taking a break from working full-time, here’s how to volunteer for an EMS service.

Many communities rely on volunteers to staff the ambulance.
Many communities rely on volunteers to staff the ambulance. (Photo / Greg Friese)

Why does EMS need volunteers?

In many of our nation’s rural areas, call volume is so low that it’s not profitable for private companies to establish offices with full-time employees. In these towns, EMS is a volunteer service provided by neighbors and community members.

EMS is still a young profession, so even just 30 years ago it was far less regulated than it is now. Almost anyone with minimal training could sign up to drive with a local ambulance service, or ride along with a rescue team.

While it’s a great thing that our care providers are gaining more certifications and becoming more educated in the process, the higher barrier to entry keeps out volunteers who aren’t certified. It’s more difficult to find enough people to cover the schedule, and especially difficult to find people to volunteer to become EMTs.

What are the requirements for becoming a volunteer EMT?

Individual requirements will vary based on the service and state requirements, but you will definitely need a CPR certification and likely an EMR or EMT certification as well.

Even to become a volunteer, your EMT certification course could take anywhere from an intensive two-week course to a whole semester at a community college.

You need a high school diploma and must be in reasonable health. Though there’s no athletic requirement to become a volunteer EMT, being strong enough to safely load and unload patients into the ambulance will make you better at your job.

Once you find a volunteer service that's willing to take you, be kind, respectful, and ready to learn.

I’m in college, can I still volunteer for EMS?

Sure. Some universities even have volunteer EMT opportunities on campus, like Tulane University’s TEMS organization.

EMT work is actually a great job for students. In between calls, you’ll probably be allowed to study for other classes or complete coursework. Many organizations are willing to work with your schedule, and your hours of clinical experience may be helpful for PA or medical school application, if that’s your chosen route.

I have a full-time job, but still want to be involved in EMS.

You can still volunteer as an auxiliary member of a rescue squad or fire department, working as someone who takes photos, organizes fundraisers, and raises publicity for the organization.

You may also be able to sign up for ride-outs with a local ambulance service.

Check to see if your town has a Citizen’s Fire Academy. In many areas, fire departments have become the main provider of EMS. Many citizen’s fire academy organizations allow participants to ride out with firefighters, so you might see a medical call or two on your way out.

Otherwise, there are several national organizations that provide training and certification so that you can be ready to respond in a disaster. Check out your Medical Reserve Corps, Fire Corps, and local American Red Cross affiliate to see how you can get involved.

No matter how you choose to volunteer your time in EMS, it’s a valuable, unforgettable experience that will allow you to serve your community.

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