In recent weeks I have seen an uptick in the number of articles throughout local newspapers and websites about the staffing shortages facing volunteer first aid & ambulance squads in New Jersey and across the country. Having been the captain of a squad that faced the same shortage of volunteers that others are facing, I know first-hand what those squad officers and members are feeling. The shortage of volunteers for many agencies gets worse, morale issues begin to set in, those members who were the most dedicated begin to burn out, mutual aid squads begin to cover more calls, residents or local leaders begin to complain. It seems as if it becomes a down-ward spiral. In an article from EMS1.com from September of this year it was stated that some New York counties were facing shortages of volunteer EMT’s and launched a study to figure out why it was happening and how it could be fixed. This issue isn’t just confined to those New York counties, but is visible across the country. Its great to see those New York counties stepping up and finding out how to fix this on-going problem for their communities. Reasons for the decline in EMS volunteers as stated in the study were changes in demographics resulting from instability in the economy where as many more people now have to work 2 jobs to provide for themselves or their family. Other changes were noted including the increased call volume from the aging population where many agencies were running fewer calls just 5 and 10 years ago as compared to today.
In addition to the increased call volume came the increase in the amount of training hours for initial and continuing education. New Jersey went from having a 120 hour basic course to a 200+ hour basic course just a few years ago. These changes can affect volunteer ambulance squads overnight. The current changes in the field of volunteer emergency services are similar to a domino effect, each domino is effected somewhere along the line, each squad, each member is effected somewhere along that line. It is up to leaders of squads and government agencies including elected officials to try and fix this situation before it gets worse. That will take a team effort on everyone’s part including local EMT’s asking their local officials for support and to think outside the box when it comes to providing the best possible care for the citizens of the community. If we look a little further to the north in Connecticut, a different type of service has come about in the last 10-15 years which can reverse that down-ward spiral. EMS staffing companies have begun to surface. These companies supply per diem EMTs for volunteer agencies to supplement their staffing when they are faced with man-power shortages. They don't just cover the calls, they do patient care reports, stock and check ambulances, clean living quarters etc. One such company from CT, called Emergency Resource Management is working to come to aid New Jersey's volunteer first aid and ambulance squads. Solutions to the shortages are there, it’s not just any one given solution to fix everyone’s problems, it will take each agency and municipality to have a conversation about it’s staffing and abilities. Those squads will need to develop their own course of actions for their community and lay the ground work to start to reverse this volunteer EMT shortage. Support will be needed from the elected officials and state governments. Sometimes the toughest conversation for squad officers, members and community leaders is the best conversation for the benefit of the citizens and ultimately enable providers to provide the best care they can.
About the Author
NICHOLAS WITCZAK is the lieutenant of Brookside Engine Co. 1 and volunteer EMT for the Mendham Township First Aid Squad. Additionally he serves as the Mendham Borough OEM Coordinator. Nick has served in a multitude of departments and positions over the last 8 years including Past Captain of Morristown Ambulance Squad, volunteer firefighter/EMT in combination fire departments including the Wallingford and Allingtown Connecticut fire departments. He has wealth of experience working and volunteering in emergency medical services including municipal, commercial, fire based EMS and 911 fire dispatching. He currently holds a B.S. in Fire Administration from the University of New Haven. Nick works full time in the fire protection industry specializing in safety, sales and project management. He works part time as the NJ Client Development Coordinator for Emergency Resource Management.