There were two stories this month that caught my attention and I think are important to view in juxtaposition:
It was the longest of times.
On Monday December 15th a man was shot in a car jacking at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey. This month, upon release of the 9-1-1 tapes, the response time of the EMS crew was called into question. During one of the 9-1-1 calls the man’s wife claimed that they had called 30 minutes prior for an ambulance, but one still had not arrived.
Now we all know that during an emergency time seems to slow down to a crawl for those who are actually experiencing the emergency. This altered perception of how time passes is something we have somewhat become accustomed to and the accusations of delayed response are traditionally dispelled with efficient dispatch record keeping. In this case the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer First Aid Squad, according to the Millburn Police Chief’s timeline, actually took 10 minutes for the on-duty Crew Chief to arrive, and 15 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. While this is definitely less than the 30 minutes perceived, is it really all that great?
The truth is, for a volunteer agency, it’s fantastic! It’s also the truth that, for the patient that’s waiting, it’s pretty horrific. For the residents served by the agency, there has apparently not been an issue with this type of response time. Perhaps the citizens of that community are fine with the longer wait for an ambulance in exchange for tax savings. Perhaps they had no idea the response times could be so long. Or perhaps… just perhaps… the agency proves its value despite the response times.
What I noted was that the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer First Aid Squad has both a website and a Facebook page filled with photos, stories, and a chronicling of the organizations activities within the community. They even publish Stats for the agency, although response time is omitted. They are an agency who, despite perceived elongated response times, clearly demonstrates the value they provide for their community.
It was the end of times.
The Town and Village of Chester, New York fired its volunteer squad because of such unreliable service. The Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps, like many volunteer ambulance agencies these days, contracted with a private provider to cover the hours of 6:00am-6:00pm. The volunteers would then cover the evening hours, the overnights, and the weekends. After an ownership change the private provider became unreliable and after 6 months the volunteer agency contracted with a different provider. Although service improved, the Town and Village apparently decided to just bypass the middle man and contracted directly with a provider to cover the town and village,in essence firing their volunteer squad who is now expected to vacate their quarters by February 1st.
This was posted on the Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps Facebook Page:
And really, the Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps Facebook Page was the only thing I could find for them, with its whopping 5 posts (two of which are just congratulating new officers) and no real photos of the agency or its volunteers providing value to the community. Considering what has transpired in Chester, I don’t anticipate anything further on this page.
The Lesson In This
When I interview new EMTs or Paramedics who are chomping at the bit to dive into the 9-1-1 system, I often have to gently remind them that working in 9-1-1 is not a right. Being the person that is turned to in someone’s literally worst moment is a privilege. If you don’t do the right thing, don’t understand the responsibility in that, don’t communicate the value in what you do, and therefore don’t live up to the expectations then that privilege will be revoked.
It’s the same for EMS Agencies. The Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps has learned this lesson the hard way. I find in moments like this that I want to do nothing more than say, “I told you so,” but the truth is that it does no good for the Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
But there’s still time for all the other EMS Agencies out there!!! It doesn’t matter if you are volunteer, private, or municipal… you need to be actively communicating your value! The message hasn’t changed much since first evangelizing the use of Social Media 5 years ago at PIOSocialMediaTraining.com, but here’s a quick key point recap for those that missed it:
- Build a presence centered around your own website/blog and connected to the Social Networks
- Engage with your community regularly
- Communicate your value by focusing on people, not equipment
If you’re not already doing this, then you need to start. Don’t wait until its too late.
Don’t end up like the Chester Volunteer Ambulance Corps.