A Call to Volunteers

Last weekend, I went back to my old stomping grounds in New Jersey to enjoy some good beer, BBQ food, and some great times at the annual Summerbrew in Island Heights, NJ, the town I grew up in.  In a town of roughly a thousand year round residents, the fire department hosted brew fest is a pretty popular event.

The event brings out an interesting cross section of people for me personally.  I get to catch up with people that I grew up with from my town, but I also get to see a number of people from the fire and EMS community that was such a huge part of my life through high school and college.  As the years go by, we shake our heads and think back to what we considered to be “the good old days” that always keep me saying, “I miss my volunteer time, but I miss it back then, not now.”

Fifteen years ago, I was an excited 18 year old EMT, just three years into my career.  There was no where that I felt more comfortable or confident than running a call.  When the tones dropped, I was all business, and back in the best days of Squad 21, I was surrounded by some of the best providers I’ve ever encountered.  We had experienced people who were patient and had a passion for what they did.  They were problem solvers, and clinicians.  Any challenge that was thrown at us was one that we would overcome together.  When you moved beyond patient care, the compassion that my squadmates showed for the people they encountered was incredible.  The patients always came first.  It was the way it should have been.

Back then, respect was earned, it wasn’t expected.  The volunteers worked twice as hard to prove themselves to the medics that intercepted them day after day.  Every blood pressure was dead on, every splinting job was second to none, and every hand was held.  Dispatchers knew who they could count on, and we all looked out for each other.  It always put a smile on my face to hear “Good afternoon, Scott.” when I’d sign on the radio for a call.  We strived to break down the barriers that were put up between us.  There were days when we’d all be short crews, so we’d come together and do what we had to do to get a truck on the road.  There were calls to be done, and patients to be taken care of.

When I read about the priorities of the New Jersey State First Aid Council, it makes me shake my head.  The hands that need to be held don’t matter anymore, its all about making sure the providers are provided for.  It implies that the respect should be given because someone can beat their chest and say “I’m a volunteer” well that’s not how it works.  Putting the best and brightest on the streets was the priority when I was there.  Self preservation and holding on by a string are where the priorities lie now.

Volunteerism isn’t dead in New Jersey.  I was with a number of fire fighters and EMTs last weekend who will attest to that, but let’s get our priorities straight.  The NJSFAC has been dealing with things the wrong way for a long, long time now, and I’m saying that its time to look elsewhere for guidance.

I know I’m an outsider looking in, but I never forget where I came from.  I’ll never forget what I learned from some of the amazing EMTs and paramedics that helped shape me into the provider I am today, and I’m sick of seeing all of that hard work, all of those great providers, disrespected by the NJSFAC.  To all of my NJ EMS friends and readers: don’t let them make a mockery of you and what you do.  It’s time for a change.  It’s time remind ourselves of what is most important: the patient.

It’s time to make the right choice.  Let’s put the control over EMS where it belongs: with the State of New Jersey.