On Volunteerism and Volunteers

I just returned from the EMS Council of New Jersey Symposium in Parsippany, NJ. The folks that put on the conference are the EMS Council of New Jersey, formerly known as the New Jersey State First Aid Council.

Twas a wonderful time at Castle Sheridan, in the fair realm of Parsippany.

Now, according to many of my colleagues in EMS advocacy, the EMS Council of New Jersey is the poster child for everything that is wrong with volunteer EMS. To hear some tell it, they’re a bunch of regressive, resistant to oversight, hopelessly stuck in the 1980’s EMS hobbyists who stand in the way of *real* (code word: professional) EMS. They might even be responsible for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, and global warming.

But let me tell you what I encountered.

I met old folks who still care enough about EMS to attend a conference on their days off, even after forty years in EMS.

I met new cadets, eager to soak up knowledge.

I met staffers, a great many of them with full-time jobs and professional degrees, who choose to spend the equivalent of another full-time job staffing ambulances in their community.

And in all of my sessions – every single one – I had a room full of people who were enthusiastic, engaged, and eager to learn. They asked good questions, they were not nearly as backwards and outdated in their knowledge as some would believe, and they chafed at silly regulations and laws in their state that keep them from doing more for their patients.

You know, those same laws and regulations that the paid EMT’s bitch about.

I’ve said before that, at every EMS conference I attend or speak, invariably the most enthusiastic and engaged people in every session are the folks proudly wearing shirts with their vollie squad’s logo on it, or jumpsuits festooned with a hundred certification patches. And at those conferences, the most apathetic and cynical participants you run into are the ones from large paid – and presumably, professional – departments. That is, if they even bother to attend any EMS continuing education outside their agency at all.

Well, this conference was attended by nothing but the first type, and they’re the kind of folks that are a genuine pleasure to teach. They treated me like a rock star, and impressed even a Southern boy with their hospitality.

Yeah, the EMS Council of NJ may resist some change that EMS advocates outside their ranks want done. But mainly, it’s because they resent being dictated to, and they push back at unfunded mandates.

You know, just like all those *professional* EMS advocacy organizations, like AAA, NAEMT, and everyone else.

More than anything else, they demonstrated over four days that professionalism ain’t conveyed with a paycheck.

And they throw a pretty good party, too. This year’s conference had a M*A*S*H theme, and one of the guys in the costume contest was this guy, in genuine 1950’s USMC uniform. They even had the speaker lounge set up as The Swamp, guarded by a Marine manning a 1919 Browning machine gun.

Everything authentic 1950’s USMC issue, except the current USMC issue boots. Even his 1911 was the correct period.

Many thanks to the EMS Council of New Jersey for having me and Nancy Magee speak. You guys did a great job, and it was a pleasure meeting all of you.