Thirty years ago a community group came together and formed a department to provide emergency services (fire, rescue, EMS) to “their” side of town. Over 100 volunteer citizens put in hours of hard work to become a successful agency responding out of a gas station. Over the years their hard work continued. They worked with developers in the area and constructed the main portion of our current facility. Things were going fine and emergency calls were being answered by well trained dedicated volunteers.
However, in the last 15 years things began to lose steam. There were some issues within the township which resulted in the closure of the Fire/EMS stations on the other side of town, leaving our department to be the sole provider of emergency services to our community. At first things were going as well as could be expected. As with many other agencies in our state and country, the increased call volume and evaporating available time to volunteer from members, it became hard to accomplish the Mission of this agency. Many calls for service were being not answered and had to wait for Mutual Aid agencies to respond at delayed response times. At that time our department was down to approximately ten “active” volunteers. Our Township Committee recognized this problem and the safety issues it caused.
After much research, they decided it was time to hire two full time EMT/Firefighters to cover the weekday hours (typically the busiest). There were some initial issues with the adjustment between the remaining volunteers and the new career members. The change initially “cured” the immediate concerns, but the problem continued to grow and later required additional hires to cover night/weekend hours. Eventually a crew was put in the station 24/7 to ensure coverage to the community.
Our department has continued to experience an increasing call volume. We put forth an incredible recruiting mission to increase our volunteer members and over the last 4 years have been very successful. We have grown from those ten volunteer members to over 50 who respond as part of an in-house duty crew system. Our department is now comprised of a full time Chief, six full time EMT/Firefighters, seven part time EMT/Firefighters, and our 50 volunteers. Fully 90 percent of our members are cross trained in firefighting, EMT-B (BLS), rescue and HAZMAT. We found that the more cross trained members we have, the more versatile we could be to ensure the proper response to any emergency. These cross trained members have allowed our department to provide our service to exceed the industry standard of 90 percent efficiency for response times of 12 minutes or less. Our “out the door” times are less than two minutes, which reduces our arrival time and subsequently the wait time for care.
Our system has been successful in providing quality EMS care to our community through using a quality control system that is very much like the proposed changes to the NJ EMS system. We are state licensed and bill for EMS transport services. These funds however do not fully fund our operation. Our funding is part of the township’s general budget and is limited due to the changing financial times. The current status of the NJ EMS Training Fund puts a great financial burden on departments like ours who follow the state standards. Each new volunteer that joins our organization who wishes to become and EMT-B must be funded by our budget. That is $550 per member. Those numbers add up quickly and lessen the amount of funds available to continue to provide training to ensure quality responders for our mission; which includes every facet of the 911 system, except police department incidents. If those funds were available for any person who agrees to provide service under the new system, then that would enhance the state’s entire EMS system, not just 100 percent volunteer agencies. Departments like ours would then be able to provide EMT-B and re-certification training to more volunteers.
Our organization’s EMS operation is modeled after the New Jersey Office of Emergency Medical Services standards. We always respond with two EMT-B’s, perform care by the standard level of care, ensure proper equipment, perform Quality Assurance of the care provided, and complete proper reports. It is only fair that every citizen of New Jersey be afforded the same level of care. The proposed changes would not affect our agency in the sense that we already operate under the proposed system; however this system will standardize care to everyone.
Although the system that we use to provide services to our community is not always the “favored” system, we have shown that it does work. Westampton Township Emergency Services firefighters provide EMS services seamlessly each and everyday. The career and volunteers members carry the same professionalism on each and every incident. These career/volunteer members ride “together” to provide the best staffing to maximize the services to our community, as well as, our surrounding communities. They always have that “what’s best for the community” mentality. This should be the mentality for our entire EMS system and for our entire Emergency Response System.
Wylie C. Johnson III is the Chief of Westampton Township Emergency Services for four years with an additional two years as Chief of the Beverly City Fire Department. He has served 19 years as Firefighter, and 15 years as an EMT-B.
This article was originally published in New Jersey Municipalities magazine. Vol. 86, No. 5, May 2009