Supporters of the EMS bill Gov. Christie vetoed in January have resurrected the legislation, now A-2463/S-1650, with more distortions and scare tactics meant to malign and discredit New Jersey’s tens of thousands of dedicated EMS volunteers.
Contrary to the propaganda, the New Jersey State First Aid Council does support background checks for all EMS workers, volunteer and paid. The devil is in the details, however. Who will pay for the background checks? Who will perform them? State police? Local police? Not all local police departments are equipped and/or staffed to accommodate fingerprinting and criminal history check requests.
Data sharing between incompatible information systems throughout the state is abysmal. Individuals applying to become foster parents, for example, report having to submit to repeated, redundant fingerprinting and background checks – with their associated costs each time – as they progress through the process.
Yes, background checks are a good idea, but not foolproof. Often the handful of individuals who make the news for bad behavior, be they police officers, firefighters, public employees or even EMS workers, are cited for incidents that occurred after their background checks came back clean.
During a recent meeting between numerous New Jersey EMS entities, some of the loudest proponents of the bill were embarrassed to discover their own paid ambulance agencies performed only a minimal, driver-abstract search on their prospective employees, rather than criminal history and fingerprint checks they, themselves, advocate.
The smear campaign implying volunteer EMTs are less qualified and more loosely vetted regarding their backgrounds is grossly misleading. State regulations require volunteer and paid responders to undergo the same training, certification and continuing education process.
The legislation’s supporters view this as a jobs bill, which would increase bureaucracy, red tape, unfunded mandates and costs for volunteers and municipalities, making it even more difficult for volunteers to continue serving their communities. Forcing out the volunteers and local responders would pave the way for paid, county-based EMS monopolies that would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. The negative attacks are meant to draw attention from the fact that the greedy, paid-organization bosses want to line their pockets with public funds.
Let’s be clear: EMS volunteers support background checks for all responders, as long as volunteers are not forced to foot the bill for the background checks.
Although some amendments have been made to the old EMS “redesign” bill, they don’t provide fiscal information regarding the cost of implementing mandates, and fail to address Gov. Christie’s veto items. No review has been performed on the fiscal and operational impacts to volunteerism, property taxes, municipal costs, the state budget, background checks or the licensure-versus-certification debate. Many of our issues and concerns still have not been addressed.
Barbara Aras is president of the 83-year-old nonprofit New Jersey State First Aid Council, which represents more than 20,000 EMS volunteers affiliated with more than 300 first aid and rescue squads throughout the state.