Want to Volunteer?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty passionate about my volunteer work in EMS.  To me, it’s a wonderful way to give back and it’s a wonderful change of pace from my workday of moving contracts through the bureaucracy.

Those of us in the fire and EMS world hear a lot about the supposed shortage of volunteers.  Last week, I saw the irony of a state volunteer fire association doing a media outreach at the state capitol using trucks from a department that is primarily paid and doesn’t even have information on its webpage about volunteer recruitment.

So, in the spirit of an intervention filled with tough love, I offer you the following advice.

Want to join a volunteer fire or EMS department? Let’s talk about what happens.
1) Good luck finding the department online. If you do find them online, good luck finding an application.

2) If you do apply, you can expect some sort of committee process to see if you “fit in” with the prevailing culture of the department, which is probably dysfunctional.

3) If you have no interest in 80% of the fire department’s calls being medical, no worries. You don’t have to even get your first responder. But even if you already have your EMT or Paramedic, we will demand that you be a firefighter.

4) Training? What’s that? We’ll do training when we feel like it, on topics that only interest us, conducted by people with no qualifications. If you need additional training to maintain your certifications, that’s probably going to be on your own, with your own money.  But if the training sounds “cool,” you can fully expect that the connected members of the department will be travelling to it — on the department’s dime.

5) Equipment?  Yeah…. Here’s a t-shirt or two. We’ll issue you a radio, pager, safety apparel, and EMS equipment sometime, maybe — if we like you and/or you still keep coming around after putting up with us.

6) Leadership?  What’s that?  We’re likely run by a self-perpetuating group of insiders who are completely insular in our thinking and definitely don’t wear how anyplace else does things, especially from you, the new guy.

7) You’ll be on some sort of probationary process for a while, which will be a form of institutionalized hazing until we “check you off.”  Good luck getting one or two of the very specific training classes that you need to be released from probation.  We only offer those every few months at best.

8) We will continue the same things we’ve been doing for 40+ years, then wonder why we can’t find volunteers.

9) If we have paid guys, they’ll unionize and then claim that they can’t work with volunteers.

10) We will beg and plead everywhere for volunteers, show zero flexibility, and use that as political cover to put in another tax levy to pay for more unionized firefighters. Once we do that, we’ll then try to become an “all-hazards” department and get ambulances staffed by 18-25 year old firefighter/medics who want to do suppression only.

If you find a department where the majority of these thing don’t apply, stay there.  You’ve found a gem.


  1. Derrellene Zbikowski says:

    Committed and TRUE volunteers are hard to find. When departments get these they don’t know what to do with them. As I have been called, “pushy” because of their lack of knowledge about me, and the lack of tolerance I have for their complacency. There is NO recruitment for volunteers as it would shake up the “good ole boy” system. There is no community outreach unless it’s a fundraiser and then they want to open up to be warm and friendly. Let the city attorney try to wrangle you into a contract about your services or lack there of, and get defensive and insulted, Who knew when you swore to volunteer that when toned out it was an inconvenience to stop washing dishes or mowing the lawn to go help your neighbor two blocks away. That so called “frequent Flier” . I know, I know. You’re a volunteer. But please explain how you pick and choose who you help based on the address.

  2. E M Meyer says:

    Your post reminds me of the old EMS Country Express songs. 😉 Seriously, like any other group, people who volunteer hold up both ends of the curve. Have worked with a lot of great people who were living proof that “volunteer just means you don’t get paid, but you are a professional like any other” to that who have the “don’t criticize me because I am a volunteer” mindset. The former was always a pleasure, but we made plenty of mutual aid calls where people didn’t want to take the boring calls, unfortunately.

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