Paid vs Volunteer Misconceptions

ffemt8978

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I was teaching a First Aid/CPR class the other day, and mentioned that the majority of the nation is protected by volunteer departments and they are not at the ALS level. One of my students raised her hand and said, "I don't think it's right that you can be a volunteer medic. I mean, why should your patients suffer because you're a volunteer."

Needless to say, this had me floored for a minute and I was left speechless. I finally asked her what she meant, and she went on to explain that she thought that all medics should be trained to the same standards. I explained that all EMT's are trained to the same standards as required by their state, but some of us don't get paid for it. I also explained that we have to maintain the same continuing education requirements as paid providers. The only difference being is that volunteers don't sit around the station waiting for a call to come in, they have to leave their jobs to respond.

She then asked me why I would even think about being a volunteer. My only answer to that was, "Someone's got to do it. If people didn't volunteer for their local fire departments, there would be a lot of adverse side effects. First of all, you wouldn't be able to purchase any homeowner's insurance. Secondly, more people in rural areas would die from things that could have been prevented. Finally, how would you feel if you called 911 because your house was on fire or your child was not breathing, and you were told that there is no help available because you don't have a volunteer fire department or ambulance service?"

She didn't even hesitate when she said, "They should all be paid. I don't like the word volunteer because to me it means unprofessional and substandard care."

My only answer to this was, "Then you would have to at least triple your property taxes and all of that would have to go to the fire department." She changed her mind about this, but I could see she was still uncomfortable with the thought of volunteer providers.

Any suggestions on how I could handle this better in the future?
 

MMiz

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Very interesting.

I work in one of the richest counties in the country. I'd say 75% of the cities have volunteer fire departments. The company I work for provides EMS for a city that by all means can afford a fire department. They have more than five brand new fire stations, brand new equipment, and everything else you can think of. The firefighters are all volunteer, and only the chief and less than then others are paid. They aren't even paid-on-call.

I wonder if the person you ran into was just an isolated incident, because I never seem to have that problem. Everyone thinks highly of the volunteers, and understands they are trained to the same level as those getting paid.

That said, there are no volunteer EMS squads in the county. I wonder if that has something to do with it.

I'd like to see what others think though, this is an interesting one, something I'll have to ask the others about at the station.
 

SafetyPro2

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It's unfortunately a common argument on the fire department side as well. One of the common terminology problems we have is using "professional firefighter" to be synonymous with "paid firefighter". Volunteer firefighters like myself take issue with that...I consider myself a professional firefighter, I'm just not paid to do it. We really push to use the terms "paid" and "volunteer" rather than "professional" and "volunteer" because of the negative connotation that makes.

What we point out, and what I'd recommend if the question comes up again, is to say that volunteer is not the opposite of professional, unprofessional is. Both volunteer and paid providers are perfectly capable of being professional and providing the same level of care. Some just choose to make it their paying job while others don't.
 
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ffemt8978

ffemt8978

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I tried very hard not to refer to professional and volunteer for just that reason. I'm very proud to be a volunteer FF/EMT, and am not really sure that I would want to do it for a living. (After all, at 0300, when the pager goes off with a woman in labor, I can roll over and go back to sleep.)

The rest of the class seemed to get what I was saying, but I just can't shake the feeling that I wasn't able to change her misconceptions about paid/volunteer.
 

SafetyPro2

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I know what you mean...10 years ago, I wanted to go the paid route. Now, with a wife, kid and good paying job that I like, I don't think I would.

Some people are, unfortunately, always going to have the anti-volunteer attitude. Sounds like you did all you could to try to change that with this individual.
 
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ffemt8978

ffemt8978

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Originally posted by ffemt8978@Jun 20 2004, 10:56 PM
I'm very proud to be a volunteer FF/EMT, and am not really sure that I would want to do it for a living. (After all, at 0300, when the pager goes off with a woman in labor, I can roll over and go back to sleep.)
Actually, I lied a little bit. I currently have an application with the Department of the Army to be a FF/EMT at one of their bases near where I live. Other than a larger percentage of wildland calls, how busy can an Army base really be as a FF/EMT?
 
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ffemt8978

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I wish I'd found this earlier.

THE BRAVE VOLUNTEERS

Scared, Cold, in pain,
the dust hasn't settled yet.
Pinned in, crying,
my clothes are ripped, red, and wet.

Lights, noise, and confusion,
all part of the night.
I'm going to die alone,
give up the fight.

Red lights are flashing,
mixing with blue.
A face appears at my window,
the face is you.

"You're gonna be all right"

is the first thing you say.
A reassuring voice,
someone wants me to stay.

You could have been home with family,
they need you too.
You worked all day at the job,
your sleeping hours numbered two.

But you went down the hall,
hoping your family is OK.
Now you're here with me and Death,
with comforting words to say.

No time for yourself,

no thought for your safety.
Later you may think,
your decision was hasty.
"Get the Jaws. Watch that gas;
Keep the people away.
Get his vitals, hose this down."

Some things I hear them say.

You stand in gas, look in my window,
show no fear.
I look back at you knowing,
your voice is the last I'll ever hear.

I fade away as you hold me,
while holding back your tears.
Thank you for being there,

You Brave Volunteers

Written by Ralph Allen
 

sunshine1026

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Loved the poem.

Along with volunteering as an EMT, I also volunteer for the Red Cross as a disaster services responder and instructor, and I have rarely run into the problem that ffemt8978 did, but I do find that where I am teaching has a lot to do with the attitude people have towards volunteers. In areas where a paid fire/EMS department has existed for a while, the attitude towards volunteers seems to be a little bit more negative, probably just because a paid system is what they are used to. Where the fire/EMS service has historically been volunteer, most people are very supportive.

I think that the explanation(s) ffemt8978 gave were right on target, and that there isn't too much more that could have been added. Most of the time, it seems like simply listing the work and time that is involved in getting our certifications helps people to understand very quickly that we are serious about what we do, and that they are glad we do it because they wouldn't want to! B)
 

zomertijd

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The only difference being is that volunteers don't sit around the station waiting for a call to come in, they have to leave their jobs to respond.
How common is this across the country? Here, our volunteer squads work in set shifts just like paid EMS workers (who, in my county, are the FD - fire is almost always first in with a BLS engine... there are also Fire Medic units who provide ALS transport) and remain at the station. At least in the more populated counties like mine, I can't think of a volunteer system that involves people responding from their homes or workplaces. Does that kind of system entail longer response times? Who provides transport?

I have to admit I'm not very familiar with rural EMS systems, but this statement struck me as strange based on my experiences. (In addition to working assigned shifts, our squad has a large number of EMTs at the Intermediate level, as well as a few Paramedics, so we do run many ALS calls... is this unusual for vollies?)

More on topic, I've found the community at large seems to be generally supportive of volunteers. The main point of strain is with fire... they instituted a restriction on FF EMTs volunteering with a rescue squad in the county because they feel it presents a "conflict of interest".
 
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ffemt8978

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Originally posted by zomertijd@Jun 23 2004, 07:00 PM
How common is this across the country? Here, our volunteer squads work in set shifts just like paid EMS workers (who, in my county, are the FD - fire is almost always first in with a BLS engine... there are also Fire Medic units who provide ALS transport) and remain at the station. At least in the more populated counties like mine, I can't think of a volunteer system that involves people responding from their homes or workplaces. Does that kind of system entail longer response times? Who provides transport?
You answered your question yourself. I've lived in very rural, and for the most part, unpopulated counties. Most people simply can't afford to take time off from work Monday thru Friday to sit around the fire station and wait for a call to come in. However, if you are able to respond to a call, it is expected that you will be able to provide the transport if necessary. I would venture to say that the overwhelming majority of volunteer departments are this way, simply for the economic reasons of their members. We do have duty weekends, where you are expected to respond to all calls. During the week, if we don't get enough people, we call for mutual aid from the neighboring districts (and they do the same).

And yes, it absolutely involves longer response times. I think I've mentioned elsewhere on this board, that our district covers something like 243 sq. miles. Our average response time is approximately 15-20 minutes and double that if the call is on the mountain.
 

MMiz

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Originally posted by zomertijd@Jun 23 2004, 10:00 PM
The only difference being is that volunteers don't sit around the station waiting for a call to come in, they have to leave their jobs to respond.
How common is this across the country? Here, our volunteer squads work in set shifts just like paid EMS workers (who, in my county, are the FD - fire is almost always first in with a BLS engine... there are also Fire Medic units who provide ALS transport) and remain at the station. At least in the more populated counties like mine, I can't think of a volunteer system that involves people responding from their homes or workplaces. Does that kind of system entail longer response times? Who provides transport?

I have to admit I'm not very familiar with rural EMS systems, but this statement struck me as strange based on my experiences. (In addition to working assigned shifts, our squad has a large number of EMTs at the Intermediate level, as well as a few Paramedics, so we do run many ALS calls... is this unusual for vollies?)

More on topic, I've found the community at large seems to be generally supportive of volunteers. The main point of strain is with fire... they instituted a restriction on FF EMTs volunteering with a rescue squad in the county because they feel it presents a "conflict of interest".
Like I said, 75% of FFs here are volunteer. We're in a suburban area about 20 minutes north of Detriot. I dont know of one department that has people sitting around the station. The deal is the first people to the station get the unit, the rest respond directly to the fire.

That said, there are no volunteer EMS crews. We station our ambulances in the FD's driveways usually. The only time we see a FF in the station is at midnight when his wife wants him to sleep on the couch... or on football night.
 

Chimpie

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Where I'm from up north (Indiana) the county uses AMR ambulances on medical runs. Dispatch also pages out the vollies to assist until AMR arrives.

At Volly FD #1 they have both people who respond from home or jobs and some who just chill at the station. There are usually at least two at the station at all times. If the number ever drops below two there is usually some chatter on the radio between the guy at the station and the Lt. on duty (has his own Chief's car if you will). Many FF have their own radios as well so if they hear that there is only one person on station someone will go and hang out until others start to arrive.

At Volly FD #2 they have ambulances as part of their department and those medics are paid. Two medics (EMT-any level) are always working. But you can usually find a volly or two hanging out at the station as well.

Chimp
 

rescuecpt

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Just make sure that you communicate that all EMTs, AEMTs and Medics are required by the country, state, county, and sometimes even town or city they work or volunteer in to meet the same standards, regardless of whether they're paid or volunteer.

I think volunteers are BETTER than paid - they have no reason to be there other than they really want to help. They have bad days and still return BECAUSE THEY WANT TO, not because they need to in order to pay the rent.

I find it interesting that she was in a First Aid/CPR class - why was she there? Did she volunteer to take the class, or was she required by someone? If, upon completion, someone fell down in front of her and she needed to perform CPR, would she do it? Or would she say she was only a volunteer and not good enough to help?

That tact might point out to her that her training WAS good, and that as a non-paid person, she could still help that patient.

(PS - My neighborhood fire department is all volunteer - we respond from home to the firehouse and head out with the apparatus from there. Chiefs and the rescue officers may report direct to the scene. The ambulance corps I volunteer with has set shifts and then pages out for backup when there are multiple calls. They also have one paramedic on duty from midnight to 7pm everyday. Both agencies have basic and advanced life support volunteers.)
 
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ffemt8978

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Originally posted by rescuelt@Jun 24 2004, 11:53 AM
Just make sure that you communicate that all EMTs, AEMTs and Medics are required by the country, state, county, and sometimes even town or city they work or volunteer in to meet the same standards, regardless of whether they're paid or volunteer.

I think volunteers are BETTER than paid - they have no reason to be there other than they really want to help. They have bad days and still return BECAUSE THEY WANT TO, not because they need to in order to pay the rent.

I find it interesting that she was in a First Aid/CPR class - why was she there? Did she volunteer to take the class, or was she required by someone? If, upon completion, someone fell down in front of her and she needed to perform CPR, would she do it? Or would she say she was only a volunteer and not good enough to help?

That tact might point out to her that her training WAS good, and that as a non-paid person, she could still help that patient.

(PS - My neighborhood fire department is all volunteer - we respond from home to the firehouse and head out with the apparatus from there. Chiefs and the rescue officers may report direct to the scene. The ambulance corps I volunteer with has set shifts and then pages out for backup when there are multiple calls. They also have one paramedic on duty from midnight to 7pm everyday. Both agencies have basic and advanced life support volunteers.)
Good points. I did explain to her that volunteers go through the same certification classes and processes as paid. And yes, she was required to attend the class because of her job and state law requirements.
 

SafetyPro2

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Originally posted by zomertijd@Jun 23 2004, 08:00 PM
How common is this across the country? Here, our volunteer squads work in set shifts just like paid EMS workers (who, in my county, are the FD - fire is almost always first in with a BLS engine... there are also Fire Medic units who provide ALS transport) and remain at the station. At least in the more populated counties like mine, I can't think of a volunteer system that involves people responding from their homes or workplaces. Does that kind of system entail longer response times? Who provides transport?
From what I've seen, it varies a lot across the country. I think the east coast is bigger on having station staffing.

Our department is a "respond from work/home" set-up for the most part. The only time we generally have people at the station is on Saturday mornings when we do maintenance.

On weekdays, the ambulance is staffed by our Fire Marshal and Fire Inspector, who are paid city employees and work at City Hall, which is right next to our station. They'll occasionally have one of the other daytime responders (those of us who work in town) to cover the ambulance for them, in which case we take it to work with us (I work out of my house, so it's no big deal for me to respond from work).

On weeknights and weekends, a FF is assigned to the ambulance and takes it home with him/her and responds from there. Same goes for our utility truck (Ford F-350) which carries a trauma box and O2. Everyone else responds to the scene in their personal vehicles (for EMS, other calls we respond to the station).

If a second EMS call comes in while the first ambulance is on a call, the utility either responds Code 3 (lights and sirens) to the station to get the second ambulance, or directly to the scene (depends on the situation and would be the duty Captain's call).
 

rescuecpt

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I think I'd be thrown in jail if I tried to take the ambulance home with me. :lol:

They give me a hard enough time when I borrow the van to drive 60 miles to the county training facility!
 

Chimpie

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Yeah, that one made me scratch my head a little bit. I can't imagine parking the rig outside in the driveway. I'm sure my neighbors would hate it when I lit it up at 3am. And oh yeah, I would have to hit the Q just to make 'em mad.

Chimp :lol:
 
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ffemt8978

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Originally posted by Chimpie@Jun 25 2004, 06:35 AM
Yeah, that one made me scratch my head a little bit. I can't imagine parking the rig outside in the driveway. I'm sure my neighbors would hate it when I lit it up at 3am. And oh yeah, I would have to hit the Q just to make 'em mad.

Chimp :lol:
Yeah, I think I would be too tempted to play "Charge" on the airhorn when I left. :D

Actually, my concern would be somebody stealing something out of the ambulance. The ol' smash and grab is pretty popular in my area and I think the ambulance would be a real tempting target for some bored teenagers to go joyriding in.
 

SafetyPro2

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Neighbors don't seem to mind, in fact, several have told me its reassuring to see it. :D I always keep it locked when its parked...there's a remote on the keychain. Most of us also don't use the sirens after about 11:00 at night unless we need them for traffic. Our whole town's residential, so there's really very few cars on the road that time of night, and we don't have anything but manual stop signs in town (no signals).
 
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ffemt8978

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Originally posted by SafetyPro@Jun 25 2004, 11:08 AM
Neighbors don't seem to mind, in fact, several have told me its reassuring to see it. :D I always keep it locked when its parked...there's a remote on the keychain. Most of us also don't use the sirens after about 11:00 at night unless we need them for traffic. Our whole town's residential, so there's really very few cars on the road that time of night, and we don't have anything but manual stop signs in town (no signals).
We hardly ever use the siren at all, unless we are in any traffic (basically a vehicle within sight of us and within a mile). I don't entirely agree with this for liability reasons, but do understand and support it for use late at night when the lightbar is more easily noticed.
 

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