Emergency medical services need volunteers
In an effort to bulk up the ranks of the Island's ambulance services, the Martha's Vineyard Association of EMTs (MVAEMT) will hold an open house this weekend and launch a direct mail campaign in an effort to recruit new emergency medical technicians (EMT).
The Island's four ambulance services need volunteer EMTs, and the services' leaders hope to sign up 20 residents for the four-month training course held this winter.
The open house will be held Saturday from 9 am to noon at the Oak Bluffs fire station at the corner of Wing and County Roads, and will provide information about the life of a volunteer EMT. Tisbury ambulance coordinator Jeffrey Pratt said they have held open house events for the past six years, and are usually successful in signing up volunteers.
"It is a good opportunity for people to come and learn some details about the class and the level of commitment," Mr. Pratt said. "They can also meet some other EMTs and ask them what it's like."
Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown have their own ambulance services, while West Tisbury, Aquinnah, and Chilmark make up the Tri-Town Ambulance Service. Each service currently has between 20 and 30 volunteers, Mr. Pratt said, and many of those volunteers work for more than one service. Volunteers do not need to live in the town they serve.
An informational leaflet was also deposited into many Island post offices boxes, and placed at the register in Alley's General Store and other frequented stops.
"We are your neighbors. We are fellow citizens who give some of our time back to the community. We are not unique in that fashion. We are much like you when you give your time to various community organizations," the mailer reads. "We just happen to be EMTs."
EMT in training
To become a volunteer EMT with one of the four Island ambulance services, volunteers must complete a four-month-long course. The next one starts in January. Tisbury paramedic Chris Cini explained that the course teaches potential EMTs anatomy and physiology, emergency medical training techniques, how to operate the ambulance, appropriate ways to treat the ill and injured, and how to communicate with other EMTs. The 110-hour course is offered on the Island and taught by nurses, paramedics, EMTs and other certified medical personnel. The tentative schedule is Friday nights from 6-10 pm and Saturdays from 8 am-4 pm.
In recent years the course has been taught at the West Tisbury public safety building, but Mr. Cini said it may be somewhere else this winter. Also this year, for the first time, the ambulance services have contracted out to a local teaching service on Cape Cod to run the course. The MVAEMT has traditionally coordinated the class.
The fee for the class is $1,100, but Mr. Pratt said the four ambulance services often sponsor volunteers in exchange for one year of service. The fee includes books, a lab kit, and training materials.
Once the course is completed, volunteers must take a state exam, which has a practical and written portion. If they pass, residents can immediately begin working as a volunteer EMT in their local service.
Mr. Cini said all of the Island's ambulance services are considered "combination" services, because they all have at least one full-time or part-time employee. But, he added, the vast majority of the employees are volunteers.
"It is an ongoing and organic process," he said of recruiting volunteers. "Over the years as the economy has changed, the pressures have increased for people and the need for volunteers has increased."
Mr. Cini said although the number of calls for assistance is higher in the summer, volunteers are just as necessary in the off-season. The majority of EMTs are year-round residents.
Volunteer EMTs work on either an hourly or shift basis, Mr. Cini said. Shifts normally run from 8 am to 6 pm, and 6 pm to 8 am. Volunteers sign up for shifts when they are available, and are paid approximately $50 per shift.
Aside from answering calls for help, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury EMTs also perform off-Island transfers. The EMT accompanies patients - normally from the hospital - that need to receive non-emergency, off-Island medical care. Mr. Pratt said Tisbury performs about 100 of these transfers a year, while Oak Bluffs carries out close to 700.
In total, the Island ambulance services answer upwards of 2,500 calls for service each year, Mr. Pratt said. New volunteers are constantly needed in order to refresh the volunteers filtering through the system.
Who is eligible?
According to state law, volunteers must be 18 years old in order to work as an EMT, Mr. Pratt said. While there is no senior limit, he said there is a fair amount of physical and emotional stamina required for the job. Currently, Mr. Pratt said the Island EMTs range in age from college freshman to late 50s, and both men and women serve.
The ambulance services screen all applications before hiring, and not all applications are accepted. Volunteers may also be asked about their driving record and criminal history background.
At times each service has had as few as 12 volunteers, and Mr. Pratt said they don't want to sink to that number again, and are encouraging all interested residents to attend the open house on Saturday.