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Volunteer EMTs Are Truly Amazing People

Rural residents and those traveling through rural areas rely on emergency medical services (EMS) for treatment and transport when they are involved in an accident or health emergency.  Many of these areas do not have enough emergency calls to warrant a full-time paid EMS service.  So, in these areas volunteers are the main support of pre-hospital emergency care.

It takes a person special traits to be an EMT and a very special person to be a volunteer EMT.  Volunteers have been the mainstay EMS care in urban and rural areas alike, but private ambulance services have taken over much of the urban area emergency services.  Volunteers continue to be a mainstay in rural areas though. 

A recent report done in 2010 by the NC Rural Health Research & Policy Analysis Center, titled “Rural Volunteer EMS: Reports from the Field” came up with some of the following information.  Local newspapers and online news sources frequently report that rural volunteer EMS is being threatened.  It is also documented in surveys that there are difficulties in maintaining viable rural EMS.  This report explored the state of rural EMS by interviewing local directors from all volunteer rural services in 23 states.  49 directors were interviewed.  The interview form asked respondents to speculate on the future viability of their local service, to describe the challenges they might face, and what it would take for them to ensure continued emergency medical services.  Some of the characteristics of the 49 participating EMS agencies were: 63 percent are Basic Life Support (BLS) services and 78 percent transport patients.  Two-thirds of the agencies had EMT-intermediates or EMT-paramedics in their volunteer group.  EMS-only agencies were more common than volunteer fire department based agencies.  They had a median call volume of 163 calls per year.  This is a little bit more than one call every other day.  So, some of the results are included: 69 percent of the agencies had problems recruiting or retaining volunteers.  Fire-based volunteer agencies had less retention issues than the EMS-only services.  A small percent said the problem was improving.  The small population base proved to be a challenge when recruiting new volunteers, as you can imagine. 

While many volunteers do not get paid some do get paid by the call or run, and some get paid for standby or being on-call.  The pay is not really why these amazing people do this job though.  Most of these rural agencies have to hold fundraisers to pay their volunteers.  It really is a community effort in these areas.  Sometimes they will receive local/county funding as part of their budget, or one time grants.  Most rural EMT volunteers are on-call, they work full time jobs and if there is an emergency they drop everything and respond.  In most cases the community has an ambulance that they drive to the accident or emergency health incident.  They have received training as an EMT and have had special drivers training.  They are dedicated individuals that are respected by their small communities. 

Some students become a volunteer EMT as part of their education.  They will work on campus at concerts and events.  These volunteer hours are good training for medical degrees and look good on applications.  They will get free admission to these events as well.

It is easy to see how these volunteer EMTs are amazing people, but more importantly how much they impact their communities.

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