The National Association of EMTs' inaugural EMS on the Hill event held May 3-4, 2010, exceeded all expectations. Organizers including officials at NAEMT said they would be pleased if 30 or 40 attended. When 140 showed up at the nation's capital, they were overwhelmed.
"This just exceeded all our expectations," says Jerry Johnston, chair of the NAEMT Advocacy Committee. "Registrations just kept coming in."
The responders included volunteers and career personnel. Some worked for fire-based EMS, some for non-profits and some were hospital-based. They went to Capitol Hill as a team to promote two specific issues: extending PSOB benefits to non-governmental crews and increasing Medicare reimbursements to ambulance crews by 6%.
NAEMT President-elect Connie Meyer said it was impressive to see the number of personnel in the halls of Congress: "Everywhere you went in the area that day you saw uniformed EMS people. It was wonderful."
But, they just weren't there for show. They were there to meet with their members of Congress or their staff.
The night before they hit the offices, they were given a few tips on how to make the best of their visits. They also had time to meet other responders from their states and work out a game plan.
"It was incredible," says Meyer. "They had 160 appointments."
Howard R. Schwartz, a paramedic with Suburban EMS in Pennsylvania, said he enjoyed participating. "It was a great idea, a good starting point, and I think it was successful," Schwartz said.
Schwartz said some Congressional staff members were surprised to hear that the families of some responders would not be eligible for PSOB benefits should they die while doing their duty. Asking for support for legislation to fix the issue, he told them that if he were killed in an incident along with a firefighter and a police officer, their families would be eligible for federal PSOB funds; however, as a provider with a non-governmental service, he would not.
The proposed legislation, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, would extend benefits to the families of providers who work for private and non-profit services.
Annually, fewer than a dozen responders of those agencies die in the line of duty, statistics show. The precedent was set when five EMS personnel who perished at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 were deemed eligible.
Meyer said an important part of the event was educating legislators and their staffs on what EMS is all about. She heard there were many questions asked during the visits.
"We have a lot of things to work on, and it's good to have a relationship with legislators," says Meyer.
During a recent survey, NAEMT members said their top priority was to establish a voice at the federal level.
Kurt Krumperman, president of Advocates for EMS, said he also was amazed by the turnout. "It was a very enthusiastic group. They were well-received," says Krumperman. Impressed by the participation, he is confident that the momentum will continue to swell. "We all know that advocacy is not a one-day thing."