Volunteer EMS and Training: Mutually Exclusive?

By Dan Limmer

clock_1024x628A recent article in the Press-Republican from upstate New York titled “Editorial: State must reduce obstacles to EMTs” stated: “Ever-increasing state training requirements are thinning the already strained ranks of emergency medical technicians and costing communities money.”


Yup. You heard it. Hogwash. I totally agree that volunteer EMS has personnel issues. But reducing the hours of training or lowering standards isn’t the answer. Those approaches are wrong for two reasons.

First, EMS training can be held in a variety of different ways to reduce both hours and the overall burden of training. The difference between 120 and 170 hours of education isn’t going to be the sole deciding factor in whether a volunteer takes a course or not. I’m not saying training hours aren’t an important part of the decision—but I don’t believe they are the only factor.

We’ve been stuck in the 2-nights-per-week-and-Saturday EMT class format since we had Cadillac ambulances. Our “lecture” sessions for EMT class are bloated and ineffective in terms of both class time and retention of material.

In a blog post last year, I talked about how an EMT class was taught successfully with 60 hours of class time. Classes were active and centered around dynamic application of the students’ online learning. The remaining portions of the training were completed asynchronously at the convenience of the participant. This class format allowed an island EMS system to gain EMTs they needed to stay in business. Limmer Creative will gladly share the schedule and the dynamic exercises used to create this and subsequent classes.

Now for the second reason. Once members get certified and join volunteer organizations, other factors such as raging political and interpersonal battles, popularity contests, lack of mentoring, and general dissatisfaction cause agencies to lose far more people than does an extra 50 hours of education.

People will stay where they’re valued and believe they belong. They’ll also commit to the training when they perceive it to be expertly delivered, valuable and necessary.  We should spend more time making our agencies friendly and our training amazing than we do complaining about the hours necessary to complete a mediocre educational experience.