EMT service demands a sturdy, community-minded volunteer
Serving as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) on Martha's Vineyard is not for everyone. It is not for the queasy, for those who don't do well on examinations, or for those who don't like to work on a team. Perhaps most importantly, it's not for those who are looking for a well paying job.
But, for those looking for a real challenge, those willing to commit hours to the training process, and those who can, at any time, drop what they are doing to run to an emergency, volunteering as an EMT may be the opportunity of a lifetime.
The Tri-Town Ambulance service, headquartered at the West Tisbury Fire Department, hosted an open house on December 6, to kick off the Island-wide volunteer recruitment process for EMT training, which will begin on Martha's Vineyard on January 6. Each of the six town fire departments' Emergency Medical Services had representatives at the open house to answer questions and help those interested fill out preliminary applications. Those applications will be reviewed and thorough background and references checks will be completed before applicants receive invitations to a pre-training orientation session. Applicants need not be full-time Island residents, and bi-lingual skills are valuable.
Becoming a volunteer EMT requires successful completion of a college level training program, with 120 hours of class time, held Tuesday and Thursday evenings and every other Saturday between January and April. The tuition is approximately $1,200, with a variety of payment plans. In West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah (the Tri-Town ambulance service) for example, the tuition for volunteers is paid in full at sign-up for those who contractually commit to a year of volunteer service. Other towns may reimburse the tuition costs at the completion of one year of volunteer service or pay half of the tuition in the beginning and reimburse the second half upon completion of the one-year service contract. An enrollee who misses three class sessions will be dismissed from the program, and then the tuition is non-refundable.
A trainee who completes the course work must pass a practical examination, administered on Martha's Vineyard, as well as the Massachusetts written exam, given off Island at a variety of locations. Trainees must complete the examinations within six months of completing the course work, or take the course work again.
When the volunteer is certified and enters the ranks of basic volunteer EMTs, he or she will be the third person on an emergency response team. With experience on the job and the evaluation of the professionals on the scene, the volunteer may move up the ranks to intermediary EMT and assume additional responsibility.
Vivian Stein of West Tisbury completed the course work and examinations by June. She has done 13 emergency runs since then. Ms. Stein moved to Martha's Vineyard in 2006 and, after trying out other volunteer opportunities, found that becoming an EMT gives her a great sense of satisfaction. "I wanted to do something important for myself. I really wanted to get involved in the community I lived in."
And, she added, she wanted to learn something new. "There is heavy training, and you better be able to work on a team."
Despite a background in health education, Ms. Stein was surprised, when on the first couple of runs she made, while attending to a patient in the back of the ambulance, she found herself becoming nauseous. "I got over it. But this is not for those who get queasy."
Each town's EMT program asks volunteers to commit to four 10- to 12-hour shifts during each month of active duty. When on duty, the volunteer EMT will receive a stipend for that shift ranging from $65-$100, depending on the town's policy. Each town has its own list of qualified volunteer EMTs who backstop the town's full-time, paid EMT staff.
Volunteers may also be paged to respond to an emergency situation, and this duty is purely volunteer. John Shannon, the Edgartown Fire Department's ambulance coordinator and the Martha's Vineyard training instructor, explains that it is the pager system that is key to getting Martha's Vineyard's emergency needs met. "In a real emergency, when our system is taxed, the volunteer is key and plays a vital role in supporting our emergency efforts."
David Schuster West Tisbury was intrigued. "I have done a lot of volunteer work, but this seems like a way you can make a real difference and get a sense of immediate gratification." Mr. Schuster is the son of a doctor and a nurse, and his brother is a physician. "It was very normal for me to be in and out of the hospital, even as a child."
According to Mr. Shannon, it is tough to describe the type of person most likely to succeed in the volunteer's role. "There are people you think would never make it, and years later you see them out on the scene and see how they have really bloomed."
Karen Watson, a registered nurse from Vineyard Haven, attended the open house because she works at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital and owns a house in Vineyard Haven. "I want to be a part of the community, and I see what a great impact these EMTs have."
According to Mr. Shannon, approximately 90 percent of the EMT assignment is to be "pre-hospital care providers." Helping to stabilize the patient and care for the emotional needs of the family members on site is a big part of a volunteer EMT's job.
Aquinnah Police patrolman Jim Neville of West Tisbury also dropped in at the open house. Mr. Neville took the EMT training course years ago, but he needs to repeat the course to refresh his skills, and he must sit for the exams. "With Aquinnah being so remote and the response time taking longer, I think as a police officer, I can be more effective with this training."
To apply for the upcoming EMT training course, contact Martina Mastromonaco, the Tri-Town ambulance coordinator, 508-693-6008.