“Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (led the “Doolittle Raid” on Japan in World War II)
Volunteering is something that I have always believed in. Thanks to my dad’s example, volunteer fire service is in my blood. After my wife and I got married, and I moved to the town she was living in, I joined the volunteer fire department. I’ve since gotten my NREMT-B card and joined a volunteer EMS in a nearby town, in addition to working a full time job in EMS and preparing for paramedic school. When school starts, I know I won’t have as much time for volunteering that I do now and I will miss it greatly. I truly believe that volunteering for fire and EMS was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.
Volunteer fire and EMS seem to take a beating daily on the countless websites, blogs and message boards where their issues are discussed. Some of my brother and sister career firefighters and EMS personnel tend to think that volunteer services are sub-par and those that are involved with such agencies aren’t even worthy to shine their boots. I disagree. Sure, there are some less than professional volunteer agencies and personnel out there. However, I feel that I should point out that, at least in my experience, some of the most unprofessional firefighters and EMTs have been employed by paid services. Yes, un professionalism exists in the paid services too. Let me also say that all volunteer services should be held to the same standards as their career counterparts. At my volunteer EMS, no one gets on the truck without a valid EMT card or EMS driver card. At my volunteer fire department, members are expected to enroll in a firefighter certification class within one year of joining the department (of course, exceptions are made to allow for jobs and such but certification is still highly encouraged). We take education, training and certification and I’m proud to be able to say that.
I’ve even taken heat for running on the volunteer EMS but, as I said, I feel it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. At my paid service, I don’t get much patient contact (the paramedic is always the one in the back, no matter what kind of call it is). When I run a volly call, we’re BLS so it’s normally an EMT and a driver. I’ve gained many patient contacts by running on this truck and it’s helped me tremendously. I feel that this something that has greatly helped to prepare me for paramedic school because of the care that I’ve been able to give by using the BLS skills I learned in Basic class. I’ve learned how to do better assessments, take good histories, learned about drugs and learned how to do a better job of documentation. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a ton at my paid ALS service and I’ve gotten to help the medics in many ways but I feel that the direct one-on-one patient care and contact has helped me get ready for paramedic school.
Fellow EMS blogger Chris Kaiser wrote a great piece about volunteer fire and EMS departments and you can read it here. In it, he calls for all of us, regardless of affiliation, to put our differences aside and remember that we’re there to help the community and not ourselves. I couldn’t agree with him more.
As long as volunteer agencies are held to the same standards as everyone else, they can be a vital asset in public safety and out of hospital care. Next time you’re tempted to bash a volunteer or volunteer department, stop and think about why you want to give them grief. Volunteers often are the ones who help the career folks out the most.