Volunteer EMTs still needed throughout New Jersey
PITTSTOWN — Quakertown Volunteer Emergency Medical Services receives between 160 and 190 calls per year.
Six emergency medical technicians handle 99 percent of the calls.
"It's hard to get people to come to the building and put the time in," said the squad's chief, Ken Weinberg. "One reason is the responsibility. The other big reason is the time to train."
To handle the shortage of volunteer members, the squad added a part-time EMT during the day. But that move is draining the squad's financial reserves, and it's expected that shortly after the new year, Quakertown will be forced to bill its patients and their insurance companies.
That will help their bottom line, but it'll also eliminate perks from the state such as free training for wannabe members, due to the way New Jersey law is currently written — a law that would change with legislation advancing in Trenton.
"I wanted to remain volunteer forever if we could," Weinberg said.
Quakertown is just one of hundreds of volunteer EMS organizations throughout New Jersey who could use more help, plagued by a still-rebounding economy and increased training requirements for EMT certification.
In the range of 150 just a few years ago, the number of hours required in the classroom and in the field now tops 200 — more than 250 in some spots — to become certified.
"The programs really are not volunteer friendly because a lot of them are now given during the daytime, and most volunteers work during the day," said Edward Burdzy, executive director of the EMS Council of New Jersey, who's seen a number of volunteer squads merge or shut down in recent years.
Burdzy noted volunteer squads also have the option to bill for their services — as Quakertown intends to do — but they would then lose some of their civil immunity and access to the the state's training fund. Legislation advanced by a Senate committee on Dec. 11 would revamp the definition of volunteer and non-volunteer squads.
Michele Lewis, captain of the all-volunteer Marlboro First Aid and Rescue Squad, said her organization is currently on the outside of this problem looking in.
From 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., Monday through Friday, two duty crews are fully staffed. Sign-ups are never an issue for the remaining three hours, and the squad's 55 members work on a 10-week rotation for weekend duty.
Lewis said the squad's steady schedule may be appealing to those unwilling to be on call 24/7. The town also has a strong cadet corps, growing a "farm team" from high school that will hopefully stay on throughout college and beyond.
"We're very lucky ... but at any given moment, I can see how that would change," Lewis said. "We all have one foot on the banana peel."
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