Many of us began our careers by donating time to local rescue squads. The lessons we learned at volunteer organizations aided our development while reinforcing the value of helping others. EMS World is proud to publicize those institutions for being volunteer strong. This month we feature the Elizabethtown-Lewis Emergency Squad of New York.
On the northeastern edge of New York’s Adirondack Mountains sit three adjacent communities: Elizabethtown, Lewis, and Westport.
Lewis is the largest and most populous, with 1,382 citizens as of the last census. Westport is the most crowded, averaging 22 people per square mile (29 scenic acres per resident, not including pets). And Elizabethtown is the closest to New York City: 271 highway miles if you don’t change lanes very often.
But Elizabethtown may seem even farther from metropolitan New York to upstate responders raised among mountains and lakes instead of bridges and tunnels. Big-city spending to care for small populations spread over undeveloped terrain is no more feasible in the great, green north than ocean liners to ferry cars across Lake Champlain. If places like Elizabethtown, Lewis, and Westport want their own EMS, hybrid departments with mixtures of employees and volunteers are probably the best option. That’s how all three municipalities came to rely on the Elizabethtown-Lewis Emergency Squad for 24/7 response.
“We have at least one full-time EMT in house 80 hours a week,” says Larry Bashaw, the squad’s treasurer. “The rest of our crews are filled by per-diem staff and volunteers, who have to do at least 12 hours a month.”
The system works, he says: “Of the roughly 350 calls we get a year, we might give one away.” That’s impressive for any size agency anywhere. Accompanying that operational success, though, are ongoing fiscal stressors.
“We’ve had a tough time over the last 10 to 15 years,” says the 58-year-old AEMT. “We struggled to obtain additional funding from the town while we continued to handle increased requirements from the state. We got to where we were concerned about running out of money. Thanks to some generous donations and substantial increases in funding from Elizabethtown and Lewis, we were able to keep serving the community.”
Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk
For Bashaw community service is a natural act. “My dad was a volunteer firefighter for over 30 years,” he says. “I thought I’d carry on the tradition; I just picked EMS instead.
“My wife, Patty, had something to do with that. She was an EMT with Westport when they were on their own. After we married she joined E-town and encouraged me to do the same. Thirty-three years later we’re both officers, and Patty is the EMS coordinator for Essex County.”
Bashaw credits Q&A between department leaders and residents for the region’s continued support. “People were reading and hearing things about our squad that weren’t true,” the Elizabethtown native recalls. “We knew we could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on full-time EMS, but we needed to educate the public about what we are and what we aren’t.
“It was a big challenge. We stuck to the facts, like why and how we replaced our medic car. People didn’t know it was 10 years old, or that I was able to trade it in for a brand-new vehicle at cost. That saved about $25,000.”
Post-call questionnaires are another way Elizabethtown-Lewis initiates dialogue with customers. “Those surveys are mostly positive,” says Bashaw, “but when we hear about an issue, we try to identify the cause and resolve it through procedural changes or additional training.”
Bashaw acknowledges that periodic training is particularly important to an organization with many members who ride less than once a week. “Our call volume is what it is,” he says. “We try to compensate by participating in CME at the local hospital and other outside locations while updating responders in house as much as possible.”
What about career providers who criticize volunteer EMS and suggest communities that commit to “hobbyists” get what they pay for?
“When our volunteers arrive on scene, the state expects the same of them as paid personnel,” Bashaw says. “Plus, our patients seem to prefer being treated by people they actually know. Our focus is to stay strong and make sure members get what they need to deliver care.”
That would work just as well in any big city.
Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville and a member of EMS World’s editorial advisory board. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.