Understanding the Role of A Fire & EMS Grassroots Movement, Now & In the Future
A man by the name of Walt Stoy, Director Emeritus at the Center for Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh described how his career in EMS began with the inspiration he got from the hit 70’s TV show “EMERGENCY!,” less than a decade after the US began to modernize EMS, organizing it under the NHTSA and DOT.
He described that his parents and elders in his family would repeatedly ask him: “So what do you do again? I don’t understand?”
Their questions were quite understandable for the time. The world had to manage for so long without the concept of EMS. A centralized service you can call upon, who will show up wherever you are, to provide assistance when you cannot do for yourself, was hard to imagine
I view the Firefighters and EMS Fund and other grassroots organizations similarly, in that some people will make initial assumptions about our nature, but largely do not have a thorough understanding about the way we conduct ourselves and the growing need for groups like ours.
Their lack of information and misconceptions come from the fact that there are far too many out there who give political organizations a bad name. They use disingenuous practices and are gimmick-y in nature, and despite the fact that they aren’t around for very long, two more seem to spring up just as one dies.
FEMSF has been mistaken for that type of organization more than enough times (believe me), but I hope that I can help you to understand how we differ and, in fact, how we have the potential to be invaluable to the industry…
In Present Terms
We recently completed a project with a citizen-started committee in California who desperately needed to remain part of a joint fire authority for the sake of cost and efficiency. Their town initially polled at 49% in favor of renewing their contract with the other 4 towns. In order to succeed they needed two thirds, or 66.67% to support renewal.
We discovered their precarious situation just 2 weeks before their voting date of March 3rd, and immediately reached out to the citizens who were hitting the streets and knocking doors and supported them with an in-kind contribution of services to GOTV. Our special 527 nonprofit status allows us to work to influence elections, hence the term “political non-profit” (not to be confused with a political action committee or a PAC).
Today, with less than half of all registered voters showing up to the polls or mailing in ballots, the official tally for this local measure rests at 66.12% in favor…less than 1 percentage point short. We haven’t given up on their town, and time will tell if public safety gets the support it needs this year.
The community rejected this contract renewal in favor of saving a few dollars a month, but now the department’s needs have increased because they no longer have the support of 4 other towns in the area.
At face value, it may not be clear as to why I am pointing out why our organization got involved in an initiative that might still lose, but what I’m trying to highlight here is the true problem: too many people presently vote as though public safety is somehow optional. The fire department’s needs will not go away; in fact those demands will grow as they now have to support themselves instead of sharing the burden with neighboring departments.
Someone (or some group) needed to step up to the plate and tackle the issue of voter priorities misaligning with essential public services. Down the road, more volunteer departments around the country will need to lobby town leadership to support service agreements with other departments and place funding mechanisms on the ballot. This will require someone with the legal designation and political experience to facilitate and advocate for such agreements.
Looking Ahead To The Future
In our global minded and increasingly connected world, fewer Millennials and generation Z’ers will grow up to identify strongly enough with their country- let alone the communities they live in- to support and get involved in EMS services without a strong force to keep them engaged. They need to understand not just the value of adequate financial support for Emergency Medical Services, but also the value of signing up themselves. I believe FEMSF can and is positioning itself to successfully advocate for a renewed respect for public safety.
Mr. Stoy, who lent his unique perspective as a professor who has taught thousands of students from multiple generations stated the ways he and many of his colleagues see EMS evolving:
- Generation X’ers who are in EMS (and retiring soon) really want career advancement but they don’t mind staying for the long term
- Millennials in EMS are really just here as a pitstop on their way to somewhere else in the healthcare industry
- Post-millennials show a troubling lack of interest in EMS altogether when compared to those in previous generations
The US is already facing a shortage of EMS personnel, and we know firsthand that volunteer fire departments are already suffocating from a lack of interest in the profession.
These numbers will only get worse as time goes on because the service is not evolving quickly enough to meet their demands.
Fire & EMS professionals have more than enough obstacles to overcome every day on the job, so entities like ours which specialize in issue advocacy, increasing awareness, and encouraging youth to get involved are the adrenaline shot that public safety needs to demand and realize real change.
Like other national political nonprofits, Firefighters and EMS Fund is free to work anywhere in the United States. It is common to wonder, however, why a national organization would choose to focus its efforts on passing ballot measures that benefit local Emergency Medical Responders? Find out the answer here.