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May 10, 2022

EMS Volunteers Keeping Hope Alive in the Community

Submitted by John Gomez, EMT/ACLS Monmouth County

Saturday, 2:38 am – As the snow tapers off in the early morning hours, you awaken to the sounds of a loved one breathing deeply. Slowly your eyes begin to adjust to the lights of the bedside lamps, finding your loved one sweating profusely and pale. No matter how hard they try to answer your questions, they can’t seem to speak more than two or three words at a time.   

Saturday, 2:41 am – As you hang up the phone, the last words of the 911 operator remain with you to this day: “Help is on the way!”

Saturday, 2:42 am – Someone across town, who you probably have never met – but perhaps you drove by their house, your kids go to school together, or you sat across from at a local restaurant, a neighbor of yours – is suddenly awaken from a deep sleep to the voice of a 911 dispatcher on their cell phone. “Squad 151…1313 Mockingbird Lane, subject with difficulty breathing, time out 02:42, ALS unavailable.” 

Without a second thought, your neighbor, a member of your town’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) gets out of their warm bed, dresses, stumbles down the hallway of their home and outside into the frigid temperatures. They wipe the snow from their car windows and do their best to chip away bits of ice, their only purpose being to answer your call for help. As they drive from their home, several other of your neighbors are also doing their best to navigate the icy roads and get to the EMS headquarters for your town. Each of them is highly trained in emergency medicine. They take no pay, receive no benefits and ask for nothing from you. 

Emergency Medical Services in towns across New Jersey, with few exceptions, are the responsibility of what was formerly known as First Aid Squads. Some of the first squads were formed in the early 1900s with the sole purpose of neighbors helping neighbors. These early squads typically focused on transporting the ill or injured, and members had little training or equipment. Today, the provision of pre-hospital emergency medicine is the responsibility of the New Jersey Department of Health, Office of Emergency Services. Under NJ Title 8, EMS organizations are held to a national standard, which requires minimum levels of education, ongoing continuing education, and minimum equipment standards ambulances, regardless of if they are a for-profit or volunteer squad. The people who serve on these volunteer squads come from all walks of life. Some can be as young as 16 and others well into their 70s and beyond. Aside from working full-time jobs and trying to deal with the complexities of a normal life, they are required to attend monthly operational meetings for their squads, take college level emergency medical training, participate in ongoing skills development programs, and respond to emergency calls.  

What many do not realize is that just about everything required to keep hope alive in a pre-hospital emergency is the by-product of donations. Everything in an ambulance – airway management systems, band-aids, burn kits, baby delivery kits, mass casualty kits, oxygen, stretchers, specialized transport systems – all of it and more is due to donations, not tax dollars. It isn’t just what is in the ambulance that is paid for by donations, but everything from the ambulance itself, at times even the gas, oil and washer fluid, to the building housing the ambulance and its members training.

Let’s consider an EMS squad that needs a new ambulance, new radios or modern computers. Who raises the money? You may think tax dollars would be hard at work to provide these basic critical necessities. Unfortunately, that is not the case for pretty much all towns along the Navesink River basin. EMS squad members must put in even more of their time to assure they have the appropriate equipment to work.

I suppose that in many ways this article is a call to arms – a call from EMS volunteers across Monmouth County to ask you to take a stand, demand that your local government make funding volunteer emergency services a priority and to do so without raising our taxes. Demand that your local government get to know and report to you at council meetings the state of EMS and Fire.

And yes, the little things count. Donating $10 a month to your local EMS and Fire Department, stopping by and saying hello, dropping off food or just sending a letter or card really matter. These are men and woman who see the worst and best of our little slice of Monmouth County. Knowing that someone out there has their back can make such a tremendous difference in their spirits. 

Even more so, get involved. Many of us here in Monmouth County have skills (business, finance, investing, IT, fundraising, etc.) that can be of tremendous help to these organizations. You may have businesses or other means that can help support the purchase of a new ambulance, training or equipment, or you may have the political affiliations to drive change. You can hold elected officials accountable. You can volunteer to organize and run a fundraiser (kitchen tour, benefit concert, night out for EMS/Fire) to allow your neighbors to stay on the frontline, doing what they do best.

Each one of us can help keep hope alive for those who volunteer and those they serve.