Problems & Solutions: Finding the best practices for your organization


Jason J. Zigmont, MA, NREMT-P | | Saturday, July 26, 2008

Volunteer professionals spend most of their time helping others without taking time to think about their own needs. This column, subtitled ˙Your Challenges, Your Solutions,Ó gives volunteers a chance to think about themselves and their organizations. Every organization has a trait that's exemplary, and it's time we share these best practices with each other.

With this in mind, I need your help. Send me your problems (and solutions) to share with other readers who may have the same issues. You can use your name or your department's, or I'll gladly keep your letters confidential. The key areas I will address in upcoming columns include:

Recruitment & Retention

  • What programs, activities or incentives have been the most successful in recruiting and retaining members on an ongoing basis? For example, have you seen results from your pay-per-call or length-of-service award program (LOSAP)?
  • What do you think is the leading reason people do or do not volunteer inEMS? Has this changed over time?
  • Why do your members stay or leave? Are their reasons internal or external?
  • What's unique about your organization that attracts volunteers? Do you go out of your way to recognize your volunteers?


  • How do you keep your members engaged in training? How do you keep them coming back for training year after year?
  • How have the increased time commitments affected your department?
  • Have you successfully trained your members to improve the level of service they provide? Have you moved from a BLS to an ALS service?
  • How do you provide consistent, high-quality training? Do you bring in outside instructors or use your own people? Have you been able to improve or expand the quality by adding new technologies or methods?

Policies, Protocols & Procedures

  • How do you ensure appropriate staffing levels? Are you a scrambling group or a well-staffed volunteer organization?
  • If you're well staffed, how are your shifts laid out?
  • How is your organization managed? How are the leaders chosen? Do you have a paid management structure?
  • How do you handle mutual aid or dealing with other services? How many ambulances do you normally staff, and what happens when there are more calls than ambulances?
  • What's your relationship with your town, city or county government? Do they fund and/or help manage your service?

Fundraising & Grants

  • How do you fund your organization? Do you have a regular fundraising drive or unique fundraisers?
  • Do you bill for services? If so, how does it work? Do you outsource billing?
  • Do you receive funding from your community in addition to billing for services? Does your community help pay for your capital expenditures?
  • Have you found alternative funding sources or secured grants?

Individual Members

  • What keeps you volunteering? What gets you up at 3 a.m. for the routine ˙sickÓ call?
  • What's the most likely reason you would stop volunteering? Would it be a personal or departmental factor?

Model Departments

  • What makes your department special?
  • What challenges has your department had to overcome? How did you meet these challenges?
  • How's your department structured? Is there something unique about your structure?
  • Do you provide both fire andEMS responses? Are you part of a larger organization?
  • How do you survive the ˙lean timesÓ?
  • Whatare your ˙lean timesÓ? Do you have a partnership with a paid service or have paid members during the day?
  • What are your biggest challenges and biggest strengths?
Some of these questions may be difficult to answer, but I believe we can learn from all of them. Please send your thoughts, problems, questions and answers, and I will do my best to share them and provide guidance in an upcoming column.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Operations and Protcols, Research, Training

Jason J. Zigmont, MA, NREMT-PJason Zigmont , MA, NREMT-P, is an EMS instructor, executive director of the Center for Public Safety Education and the founder of He's also a PhD candidate in adult learning at the University of Connecticut. Contact him at


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