Administration and Leadership, EMS Today Conference, Training

Troublemakers: Can’t we all just get along?

Issue 5 and Volume 34.

Why is it that any time someone stands up for volunteers, a small but vocal group of individuals (usually paid providers) seems to go out of their way to put us down? Why do they seem to believe volunteers are the root of all evil?„

For example, moments after my last Web article was posted ( about why people volunteer, several readers immediately started in just as they had on the JEMS Connect volunteer group board ( Although it_s usually a losing battle to acknowledge people with such animosity toward volunteer„EMS providers, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of their points and provide a little background to facilitate an intelligent discussion about volunteer EMS. Here are their main arguments:

Police, doctors and other respected professions don_t volunteer.Although I appreciate the point, it_s not correct. Doctors, nurses, dentists and all types of allied health professionals volunteer at clinics, during emergencies and even in formal programs, such as Doctors Without Borders. It_s just professionals giving back to the community and helping others. So why are EMS and fire any different?„

Volunteers are the reason EMS isn_t accepted as a profession.This is one of my favorite claims against volunteers. The fact that one EMS provider is throwing rocks at another is an unprofessional act in itself, and often overlooked as part of the reason we_re not accepted in the first place. You don_t have to be paid to be professional, and just because you_re paid doesn_t mean you_re a professional or part of a profession.„

EMS continues to struggle to establish itself as a respected profession not because of volunteers, but because we don_t support our industry on a unified basis and make sure we_re all professional on every call, every day.

You wouldn_t volunteer to be a garbage collector.Whoever made this comment was right, because I wouldn_t volunteer to be a garbage man. But then again, I wouldn_t do it for a living either. I_ll admit that people volunteer for EMS and fire because they enjoy it and find it exciting and somewhat glamorous, but then again many people make a career out of EMS and fire for the same reason. What_s wrong with enjoying volunteer work, or for that matter, your job?

There_s a lack of ALS services, and volunteers provide only BLS services.First off, there„are volunteer organizations that provide ALS services. There are also paid agencies that don_t have enough paramedics to deploy all of„heir ALS units and some states that don_t have enough paramedics in general. Both of these issues would need to be resolved if ALS is going to be the standard of care.„

Volunteer organizations want lower standards for training and education so they can more easily recruit volunteers.With the new national EMS education standards, national certification and core content, the debate is already over regarding the minimum standards. But to say volunteers are the reason standards are lowered overlooks the fact that many paid organizations are content running EMTs on most of their calls. If we required every EMS professional to complete 1,200 hours of training to become a paramedic, many paid and volunteer services across the country would collapse.

Without volunteers, there would be more paid jobs and pay rates would increase.„Although this may be true in some communities, most of the communities being served by volunteers would have no EMS or extremely long response times if volunteerism didn_t exist. Communities with low call volume wouldn_t be able to afford to replace volunteers with paid staff, especially when you_re talking about areas with only a few hundred calls each year. How could you justify even two paid 24/7 personnel for an EMS organization that handles just 300 calls a year? The cost to provide service for less than one call per day would be astronomical!„

If you want to raise pay rates, help lobby for an increase in Medicare and Medicaid rates so ambulance services can operate at a true profit level like other businesses, rather than lobbying to get rid of volunteers.

Eye to Eye
Can_t we all just get along? Isn_t EMS about providing good patient care and serving„our communities? Bashing each other„won_t get us anywhere. If you want EMS to be a profession, get involved in bringing everyone together rather than tearing us apart. Consider joining such organizations as the National Association of EMS Educators (, National Association of EMTs (, National Association of EMS Physicians ( and Advocates for EMS ( There_s an appropriate group for everyone. And, hopefully, through these organizations, we can all begin to see eye to eye.„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.