May 10, 2022

EMS volunteers keep hope alive in the community

Submitted by John Gomez, EMT/ACLS Monmouth County

Saturday, 2:38 a.m. – As the snow subsides in the early morning, you wake up to the sound 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 say more than two or three words at a time.

Saturday, 2:41 a.m. – As you hang up the phone, the last words of the 911 operator are still with you today: “Help is on the way!

Saturday, 2:42 a.m. – Someone across town, who you’ve probably never met – but maybe you walked past their house, your kids go to school together, or you sat across from a local restaurant, a neighbor of yours – is suddenly waking up from a deep sleep with the voice of a 911 dispatcher on their cell phone. “Squad 151…1313 Mockingbird Lane, subject having difficulty breathing, timeout 02:42, ALS unavailable.”

Without hesitation, your neighbor, a member of your city’s emergency medical services (EMS), rolls out of his warm bed, gets dressed, stumbles down the hallway of his house, and steps out into the freezing temperatures. They wipe the snow from their car windows and do their best to remove the chunks of ice, their sole purpose being to answer your call for help. As they drive away from their homes, several other of your neighbors also do their best to navigate the icy roads and get to your town’s EMS headquarters. Each of them is highly trained in emergency medicine. They receive no salary, receive no benefits and ask nothing of you.

Emergency medical services in New Jersey cities, with few exceptions, fall under what were formerly known as First Aid Squads. Some of the earliest squads were formed in the early 1900s for the sole purpose of helping neighbors. These early squads typically focused on transporting the sick or wounded, and members had little training or equipment. Today, the provision of prehospital 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 for ambulances, whether a for-profit or voluntary team. The people who make up these volunteer squads come from all walks of life. Some may be as young as 16 and others well into their 70s and beyond. In addition to working full time and trying to cope with the complexities of normal life, they are required to attend monthly operational meetings for their teams, complete college-level emergency medical training, participate in ongoing skills development programs and respond to emergency calls. .

What many don’t realize is that almost everything needed to keep hope alive in a pre-hospital emergency is the byproduct of donations. Everything in an ambulance – airway management systems, dressings, burn kits, birthing kits, mass casualty kits, oxygen, stretchers, specialist transport systems – all of this and much more is due to donations, and no to taxpayers’ money. It’s not just what’s in the ambulance that’s paid for by donations, but everything from the ambulance itself, sometimes even gas, oil and windshield washer fluid, to the building housing the ambulance and the training of its members.

Consider an EMS team that needs a new ambulance, new radios, or modern computers. Who collects the money? You might think taxpayers’ money would work hard to provide these basic essential necessities. Unfortunately, this is not the case with almost all the towns along the Navesink River basin. EMS team members need to spend even more of their time ensuring they have the proper equipment to work with.

I guess in many ways this article is a call to arms – a call from Monmouth County EMS volunteers asking you to take a stand, to demand that your local government make volunteer emergency service funding 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 on the status of EMS and fires.

And yes, the little things matter. Donating $10 a month to your local fire and emergency department, stopping by and saying hello, dropping off food, or just sending a letter or card is really important. They are men and women who see the worst and the best of our little slice of Monmouth County. Knowing that someone out there has their back can make a huge difference in their mind.

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 political affiliations to drive change. You can hold elected officials to account. You can volunteer to organize and host a fundraiser (kitchen tour, benefit concert, night for EMS/Fire) to keep your neighbors on the front line, doing what they do best.

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