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Volunteer Strong: Bellevue EMS

Many of us began our careers by donating time to local volunteer squads. The lessons we learned 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 Bellevue EMS of Iowa.

Bellevue Summary

  • Link to agency website
  • Founded: 1972
  • Area served: Bellevue and surrounding areas (165 square miles)
  • Approximate population served: 3,500
  • Approximate annual call volume: 320
  • Volunteers: 6 paramedics, 19 EMTs
  • Paid personnel: 0

More Than Lights and Sirens

Visit Bellevue’s website, and you’ll find this disclaimer at the bottom of the homepage: Being a member of the Bellevue EMS team is not all about lights and sirens. For some 9-1-1 novices that might be a deal breaker, but for the EMTs and paramedics of Bellevue, EMS is mostly about helping neighbors.

“We’re different from a big city,” says Lyn Medinger, president of Bellevue EMS, an Iowa agency across the Mississippi River from northwestern Illinois. “The people you’re working on are your friends and family. You know something about every one of them.”

That familiarity works both ways and is evident from the encouragement EMS gets from the community. “It’s not just the money they donate,” Medinger says. “They helped build our headquarters for less than half of what it was supposed to cost. Even our utility company got involved; they came in and wired it up for nothing.

“That kind of public support is one reason we’ve been around for 48 years. The other reason is the dedication of our members and their families.”

Medinger should know. The 52-year-old paramedic, whose father was a charter member of the Bellevue squad, spent much of his childhood around volunteers. But he claims a 1972 TV show was just as much of an influence. No, not Bridget Loves Bernie.

Emergency! was the big after-school TV series,” Medinger recalls. “We all wanted to be like Johnny and Roy.”

Fewer Members, More Calls

Forty-eight years later there aren’t as many prospective Johnnys and Roys. Membership in Bellevue EMS has decreased from 46 in 1972 to an average of 25. “Families today are busier than ever,” says Medinger. “Some of them have children active in sports and travel all over the Midwest.”

Also commenting on the reduction in personnel is founding member Max Reed, still an EMT after 48 years at Bellevue: “A lot of the charter members found out EMS wasn’t something they could do. It takes a toll, mentally and physically.”

Bellevue tries to anticipate the worst of such consequences by offering counseling after difficult cases. Medinger cites a grisly motorcycle MVA that caused one responder to resign. “Now we really monitor the individuals who handle those calls,” he says. “If necessary, we can bring all the agencies involved to the table for a debriefing.”

On a more routine basis, Bellevue reimburses members for uniforms, EMS courses, and professional association dues. They also pay responders small per-call stipends to offset other incidental expenses. According to Medinger, “It’s just a few hundred dollars a year to make things a little easier on the families.”

A 24/7 Business

Calls received by Bellevue from 6 p.m. until 4 a.m. daily are answered by regularly scheduled two- or three-person crews. “Other times we do open paging,” Medinger says. “If you’re available, we’d like you to respond. We use an app called IamResponding that helps us keep track of everyone.”

New members, who are required to become EMTs within two years of joining, are always welcome. “We hold an annual recruiting breakfast,” says Reed. “Lots of people come in, and we introduce them to our organization. We also have an open house that’s created some interest.

“Many of our members have gone on to careers in EMS. Some of them still volunteer here.”

When asked to describe ideal traits among candidates, Medinger names reliability and willingness to learn. “You can’t teach or force those qualities,” he says. “You have to give recruits a chance to make a couple of runs and see how they react. Some of them find EMS is in their blood.”

Then there’s the core mission, which Medinger says is to provide timely and appropriate emergency medical care to patients with acute illnesses or trauma. “It’s like running a 24/7 business,” he adds. “You can’t take off for holidays or family vacations.

“Flexibility is important, but so is understanding our members’ strengths. We don’t want any of them to feel uncomfortable; we want them to feel they fit. We try to put them in positions where they can succeed.”

Sounds like a good fit for Bellevue’s patients too.

Mike Rubin is a paramedic in Nashville and a member of EMS World’s editorial advisory board. Contact him at mgr22@prodigy.net.

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