The News Journal of Delaware published an article on the volunteer EMS and fire services in the state: When Every Second Counts.
The article looks at response times noting several larger scale incidents and comparing Delaware's response times to NFPA and other standards. As with many article like this it didn't take long for the comments to pour in using the newspaper's comment feature attached to the article.
It is clear that there is both a strong voice from the volunteers in Delaware (many of whom I met while at their conference last year) and support from the public as well.
If you read the EMS magazines (one I read recently had several editorials on how volunteers fit into the emerging professionalism of EMS) the paid vs volunteer service certainly is a hot topic.
The topic extends into more than professionalism. Volunteerism was at the core of society but has taken hits from shrinking available time and the shrinking economy. Yet could a municipality today say, "Next year we are doing away with volunteers." and find the budget to hire the staff that would be required to cover that jurisdiction? I think not.
I've been posting quite a few news pieces without commentary recently. Here are my thoughts on this issue of volunteer vs paid in the United States:
I believe the answer relies in setting a standard, then using resourcefulness and collaboration to meet the standard. And not a reduced or varied standard.
I believe that a family traveling down the East Coast (or anywhere) shouldn't receive varied levels of care. Not just whether it is BLS or ALS, but the actual quality of the system and providers should not vary based on the type of system.
I believe we focus too much on paramedic services when an EMT or EMT-I service with a shared paramedic response will meet that standard in many (but not all) communities.
I believe that a territorial attitude and competition sometimes seen in the volunteer services must cease in order to meet these standards and assure fiscal responsibility. I came from a system in which there were 3 truck companies (each with 100+ ladders) in a 6 mile stretch of highway. (This has since changed.) There are times crews and apparatus decisions must be done cooperatively between adjoining districts for the good of those we protect.
We need to get out of the box and put service first--first over paid or volunteer. We need to create quality, cooperative training and emergency response. Those who are hired to supplement volunteer organizations should be carefully chosen to "fit" well with the call force. Paid personnel should receive training in mentoring and teamwork.
Volunteer services aren't going anywhere. No municipal budget has the ability to just "go paid." Rather than get into arguments about what is best when we have no ability--and in many cases no desire--to change is senseless.
Why do senseless things? Lets make what we do and who we are better. Every person. Every agency. Better.