Administration and Leadership, EMS Today Conference, Training

Problems of Practice: A new outlet to share them & improve volunteer EMS

Issue 3 and Volume 34.

True learning occurs when individuals or organizations frame their problems of practice as learning opportunities. My last article looked at improving your organization one shift at a time on an individual basis, but sometimes there are larger organizational concerns.„

Problems aren_t necessarily unique to any one volunteer organization. We all encounter obstacles related to recruitment, retention, management, funding and even interpersonal relationships. But organizations also tend to share the reluctance to “air our dirty laundry” and talk honestly about concerns. This is usually because we fear it_ll make us look bad, either as a department or as individuals. Unfortunately, we miss out on learning experiences and opportunities to improve.

To provide a dedicated place for volunteer EMS providers and managers to have their voices heard and collaborate, this column will now be in print and online. In the odd months (May, July, September, etc.), an article will appear inJEMS, centered on a„specific topic, and during the even months (April, June, August, etc.) an article will be on that shares solutions from the community at large. I_ll continue to provide my viewpoint, but the goal will be to increase the variety of solutions providedƒno single person can have all the answers!

To help facilitate this team effort, I would like to encourage readers to sign up for the volunteer group on the popularJEMSConnect social network at On this site, you can start discussions and post comments directed toward the group or all members. This will help build a network of volunteer EMS experts too.„

The key is we must clearly define what our problems are, because ill-defined problems tend to have ill-defined solutions. There must be enough detail for readers to identify aspects of your agency that need improvement in order to help reveal a solution. Saying, “We have recruitment difficulties,” won_t suffice.„

Here_s an example of a thorough description: “Our department serves a population of approximately 10,000 within a 40-square-mile area and runs approximately 500 calls each year. For the past five years, we_ve had a steadily decreasing number of members, and our average membership age is getting much older (with many being close to retirement). It has been difficult to staff our second BLS unit when there are concurrent calls, and we often have to utilize mutual aid. We_ve tried a property tax credit and have an “Accepting Members” sign in front of our station, but we_re barely keeping up with the members we lose each year. Help!”

Here_s another: “I_ve been volunteering for the past 10 years, but recently I find it hard to get up out of bed for calls. I just can_t find the energy to volunteer. It seems like there_s fighting every time I go to the station. Arguing has become the norm, and I have no clue how to get the excitement back. We have only 22 members in the department, but everyone seems on edge. I know there are others who have lost interest; we lost five members this year alone! I_m not even sure what we_re fighting about now. We_ve changed our management three times in the past six years and that hasn_t helped. How do we all learn to get along?”

There_s enough detail in these commentaries for me and others to know what kinds of tips to offer.„

I_ll be facilitating and moderating the “discussion” and will make sure everything is kept professional. When sharing, the only absolute guideline is that your comments can_t be personal attacks or internal personality conflicts. Certain problems are personal and are no one else_s business.„

You may choose to be credited, either personally or as an organization, or remain anonymous. I can_t promise your comments will be published in print, but they_ll be
public if you post responses on the Web.„

I may need to paraphrase or edit your submission if I use it for my column, but I_ll do my best to keep your response intact. If you have pictures that will help readers understand your issue, please send them to me for possible inclusion. And keep in
mind that I have only two weeks in between the time you see the print article and the day the Web article is due.„

Get involved by e-mailing me at[email protected]or posting a discussion„within the volunteer group on JEMS Connect. I_m looking for answers to the issues just posed, and any other problems or solutions you want to share. Together, we can build a better volunteer EMS system throughout the U.S. Initiating an ongoing discussion will help turn the volunteer„community into a learning community for everyone_s benefit.„JEMS

Jason Zigmont, MA, NREMT-P, is an EMS instructor, executive director of the Center for Public Safety Education and the founder He_s also a PhD candidate in adult learning at the University of Connecticut.„

Learn more from Jason Zigmont at the EMS Today Conference & Expo, March 2Ï6 in Baltimore.