When I was about 10 years old, my father told me that living in a community comes with responsibilities. It is the responsibility of every person to give a little of themselves for the benefit of others, he said. Some people fundraise for the school, others plan events or take the time to bring a casserole to a neighbor who has fallen on tough times. My father chose to volunteer in the fire department; I do, too, and also for the ambulance service.
Volunteering is time consuming and usually thankless. Why do I do it? Because I believe in paying it forward. Because at some point my family or I are going to need help and I want the service to be there when we call for it. And because I can’t ask anyone else to sacrifice if I am unwilling to.
Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Volunteerism is dying. As a result, Boulder Ambulance — like so many rural ambulance services nationwide — desperately needs members willing to give a little of themselves for the benefit of others.
Let me share a little bit of history. Pivotal in the history of emergency services was the advent of 911. Prior to 1967, different numbers were used for different emergencies and they varied by states and regions. February 1968 marked the change to a single universal phone number for every emergency regardless of location. By 1979 roughly 26% of our nation’s population was covered by an emergency dispatching call center reachable via 911; by the turn of the century, coverage had grown to about 93%.
The 1970s also saw a push for the provision of advanced life support prior to arriving at the hospital. Some services existed, but they were inconsistent and training and certifications were lacking. It didn’t go mainstream until the TV show Emergency! in 1972 made the concept popular, and almost expected by the general population. Before then, the ability to call for help and have a medical professional respond immediately did not exist. After, demand exploded for medically trained first responders and therefore the necessary training classes and licensing.
The demand for emergency medical services has only grown. While fires have been steadily declining — from approximately 3 million fires reported in 1980 to 1.3 million in 2016 — medical calls have quadrupled in the same time period, from approximately 5 million to 22 million.
In 2019 dispatchers in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office answered roughly 1,045 medical calls. Of those, about 228 were responded to by Boulder Ambulance. Who responded? People who were at work, taking kids to school, mowing lawns, sleeping, or spending time with families. They were not sitting at the station waiting.
When paged by a dispatcher, a volunteer first responder must make a choice: Can I leave my kids? Can I leave my job? Should I leave my family? Lucky for you, they leave whenever they can to respond to your emergency, and in the process often losing wages or vacation time or putting off whatever they were doing.
And that’s okay. We volunteers make the choice and we do it because we care. I’m here for you, for no other reason then I want to be. All I ask is that you keep in mind our sacrifices, and ask yourself if you are able or willing to make them as well.
We live in a world where we have been taught that help is a phone call away and will be there immediately. This isn’t a reality in any rural community. If you want your call for service to be answered immediately by a crew who does this for a living, then you’ll have to move to a larger community that has the funding to provide that level of service. There is no way around that.
However, if you want to remain in your smaller towns, take matters in your own hands. Join the fire department or ambulance. Get certified. Bring that knowledge and dedication to your community.
If that doesn’t work for you, find something that does, and give a little of yourself to something bigger.
Amanda Brown is a volunteer with Boulder-Bull Mountain Volunteer Fire Departments and Boulder Volunteer Ambulance.