From the second 911 operators pick up their phones, they know they're working against the clock to avert an emergency situation or to save a life. The operators can try to assist you from the other end of the phone line, but it's the first responders to the scene who have a chance to assess the situation and begin medial treatment. These responders -- emergency medical technicians or EMTs -- could be faced with situations ranging from a pregnant woman in labor to someone with a severe gunshot wound [source: US Labor].
The EMTs use their training to assess the situation and then control bleeding, administer intravenous fluids, perform CPR or use other basic life support techniques on the scene. Then, as the patient is transported to a hospital, the EMTs continue to administer care. Once the patient arrives at the hospital's emergency department, it's important for any observations gathered at the scene to be reported to the hospital staff [sources: US Labor, Become an EMT].
Being an EMT is not without mental pressure or great responsibility; as a first responder your job is literally to help save lives. But the importance of the work is what makes being an EMT rewarding. And you don't have to give up your current career to be a part of this worthwhile profession. Every day, volunteer EMTs are called upon to respond to emergency medical situations.
Volunteer opportunities can be found through Volunteer EMS, an online directory of emergency medical providers in 37 states in the United States. Or, to find opportunities in your area, check with nearby colleges and universities. Many of them have emergency medical service (EMS) organizations that need volunteer EMTs on standby at college events such as concerts or football games [sources: University of Minnesota, Campus].
In this article, you will find information on the standard requirements, training and benefits of working as a volunteer EMT.
If you are interested in volunteering as an EMT, but aren't sure if you qualify for the job, see the next page for some of the basic requirements.
Volunteer EMT Requirements
Offering your time as an emergency medical service (EMS) volunteer is unlike other community volunteer programs. In order to be certified, emergency medical technician (EMT) students must log somewhere between 40 and 1,000 hours of class time, practical experience and on-the-job training based on their level of certification [source: AMA].
But before you begin the rigorous process of EMT training, there are some basic requirements with which you should become familiar.
Meeting most of these requirements should come naturally -- they have to do with the quality of your physical and mental status. Providing emergency medical care is a risky business, and the people who take on these jobs need to be ready for its physical, mental and emotional challenges. Here are some basic requirements to work as an EMT:
- Be at least 18 years of age
- Have clear vision (glasses and contacts are OK)
- Have accurate color vision
- Be able to lift and carry heavy objects
- Be in excellent physical condition
- Be emotionally stable
- Have earned a high school diploma or GED (required in most cases)
If you meet the above requirements, you're ready to start the six- to 24-month process of EMT training and certification. In order to volunteer as an EMT, you'll need certification from an EMS program that is recognized by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians [sources: US Labor, AMR].
Knowing the requirements is just the first step -- now you'll need to complete EMT training in order to become a fully-certified EMT volunteer. On the next page, you'll find details on where EMT classes can be found and how you can sign up.
Volunteer EMT Training
Do you know what type of emergency medical technician (EMT) you'd like to be? Currently, there are five different levels of EMT certification that vary in skill level. In order of responsibility level (from lowest to highest) they are: First Responder, EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate: 1985, EMT-Intermediate: 1999 and Paramedic [source: U.S. Labor].
Training classes are most commonly offered by the following institutions: community colleges, technical schools, hospitals, fire departments, emergency medical service (EMS) organizations and police academies. An easy way to find a training site in your city is to check with your state's health department. Sometimes, the health department's Web site will have a list of approved EMS education programs and training sites that you can download from the comfort of your home [sources: AMA, MDCH, NDHHS].
In training, you'll learn how to assess a patient's health status and how to quickly respond to the situation. EMTs learn basic life support skills for treating cardiac arrest, bone fractures, obstructions to the airway and more. These courses also cover the proper use for common medical emergency equipment such as a stretcher or splint -- tools that EMTs use every day [source: U.S. Labor].
For each progressive level of EMT certification, the amount of required training increases. Below are the approximate total hours of training needed for each level [source: AMA]:
- First Responder -- 40 hours
- EMT-Basic -- 110 hours
- EMT-Intermediate -- 200-400 hours
- Paramedic -- 1,000 hours
Once training is complete, all EMTs must pass two types of tests. In order to be certified as an EMT, you'll need to pass a written examination and a practical application test. These tests must be administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) or an NREMT-approved program run by the state [source: US Labor].
See the next page for information on some of the perks you'll receive after becoming a volunteer EMT.
Volunteer EMT Benefits
Although a simple willingness to help others and a desire to give back to the community are great reasons to become a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT), there are also some tangible benefits that you might be interested to learn about.
If you're pursuing a job in the medical field, volunteering as an EMT is a great way to gain real-life work experience. And when you're looking for a job, previous experience is a necessity. For anyone who is not pursing a medical career, EMT volunteering can save you a bit of cash by getting you into a free class or two.
At some universities, volunteers receive free emergency medical service (EMS) classes, food vouchers and reimbursement for campus parking fees. Volunteer EMS programs run by cities and towns may not offer parking or food vouchers, but many of them offer funding for school. In many cases, volunteer EMTs are eligible to receive tuition dollars toward continuing education courses. One stipulation, however, is that these courses are related to work in the emergency medical field and count toward an EMT's recertification [source: Hoboken, University of Minnesota].
Also, this may go without saying, but working stand-by at social or sporting events comes with free admission. While it's true you may not be able to sit in the stands or participate as a guest, you'll be working in a fun, lively atmosphere. To find out about the benefits offered by EMS organizations in your area, it's best to contact the organizations directly because the benefits offered can vary from one group to another.
If you're interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer EMT, check out the next page for links to more information.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Medical Association (AMA). "Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic." (Accessed 4/29/09). http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/40/emermedtech0809.pdf
- American Medical Response (AMR). "Paramedic and EMT Training." (Accessed 4/29/09). http://www.amr.net/Paramedic-and-EMT-Training.aspx
- "Become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)." All Allied Health Schools. (Accessed 4/26/09). http://www.allalliedhealthschools.com/faqs/emt
- National Collegiate EMS Foundation. "Campus EMS Organizations." (Accessed 4/28/09). http://www.ncemsf.org/resources/links/showlinks.ems?category=999
- Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps. "Volunteers Needed." (Accessed 4/28/09). http://HobokenEMS.com/page9.html
- Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH). "Initial Education." The State of Michigan (Accessed 4/28/09). http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-2946_5093_28508-132259--,00.html
- National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). (Accessed 4/26/09). http://www.nremt.org/Content/NREMT_Home.nremt
- Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services (NDHHS). "Emergency Medical Services Education and Training." The State of Nebraska. (Accessed 4/28/09). http://www.hhs.state.ne.us/ems/emsedu.htm
- NREMT. "NREMT Pilots Online Re-certification." The Registry. Spring 2009: 3.
- United States Department of Labor. "Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics." Occupational Outlook Handbook 2008-2009 edition. December 18, 2007. (Accessed 4/26/09). http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos101.htm
- University of Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "Emergency Medial Services: Volunteer Information." University of Minnesota. (Accessed 4/28/09). http://www.dem.umn.edu/umems/volunteer.html
- Volunteer EMS. (Accessed 4/25/09).http://www.volunteerems.org/