I wanted to start writing today although I’m still building this website. I couldn’t really decide on a topic until until I realized how many emergency response stations these days are not on the internet. It’s a bit ironic that we who are so visible in the public hide ourselves when it comes to public technology. Yet you can go anywhere in the United States and find good active stations with no web presence. It’s hurting you, it’s hurting your image, and it’s causing more of your problems than you think. The internet is as important to private business as it is to EMS Departments. In this article as someone who designs websites as a hobby, and as someone who had designed station websites, I’d like to take the time to convince you on the merits of web presence. I want to show you why you should have a website and if you do have one why you should ensure it’s updated to the modern age.

Who are you again? Creating Your Department’s Image.

Every time we go out on a rig we’re advertising ourselves. It doesn’t matter whether your department is volunteer or career, transport or emergent, city based or corporation owned, in the end your department name is out there. A wise EMT once told me when I was younger that we have to watch how we drive because we’re essentially driving a big billboard; and he cautioned me that the public was always watching. He of course was spot on but our billboard only goes so far. I run in Virginia Beach as a volunteer, in a very large volunteer system that has been in place for nearly half a century already, and yet we still find people who have no clue who we are and no idea that we are a free volunteer based service.

An example of a good EMS Department website.
Providence Forge Volunteer Fire Rescue. I designed this one. Notice how I construct an image.

The internet is handy because everyone is on it and everyone knows how to use it. When you want to visit a new restaurant what do you do? You check Yelp, Facebook, Google or you scout out the reviews elsewhere. You want to visit a unknown store? You’re often on Google Maps or Bing Maps searching for the address and how to get to it. Heck, even us in EMS are more dependent on internet based GPS services than we are the actual map books. The internet is where people go for information. It’s why you are on this website to begin with. So when someone wants to know about their Ambulance Department they’re not going to walk up to your station to chat (most won’t anyway), or come find you lounging at the E.D. Front, they’re going to search for you online.

If you don’t have a website you don’t have a complete image. The information you put on your website is the image you construct. A good example is how I build department websites. My websites contain articles about safety, history on the department, services provided, contact information (if applicable), pictures of the apparatus, and other helpful informational bits. This is where you make your pitch for recruitment of volunteers and employees. This is where you inform your community of your worth. So starting off if you don’t have a modern website you are already really, really, hurting your image.

You can do it for free. You have someone with the ability.

Folks, I don’t want to state the obvious but it’s 2017. Some of your older folks that saw the internet and computers rise up might be confused but millennials have this. Many of us grew up with the internet and in the technological age. Most of us know how build a website and consider it a skill no more difficult than making a PowerPoint presentation. You don’t need to hire a pricey web designer because chances are in your ranks is someone with the ability but afraid to speak up. I am one of those people. Again, defaulting back to my station, I’ve only been with this particular volunteer department for three months since my move to Virginia. I don’t want to make waves. I don’t want to be [that] guy. So even though our website looks like it was made in 1996, has tons of outdated information, and serves literally no purpose; I’m not going to come forward until there’s a real opportunity to do so. The internet is not a cut throat place and your organization does need not be scared of it (given you lay down the law a bit first…more on that in a moment). The cheapest web hosting is a shared server and that costs about $10 a month. Your domain rental costs about $15 a year. You can get open platforms to build on like WordPress for free. Do the math. That’s $135 a year. Even the poorest department can afford that much. Isn’t your image worth that much at least?

An example of a poorEMS Department website.
Kempsville Rescue Squad (part of the VA Beach Rescue Squads). I’m ashamed as a member of this department because of this site. 1996 coming back to haunt anyone else?

Your website needs to remain modern and it needs to look good. Does that mean you need to swoon over it monthly? No. Set aside a day every year and review it. Keep it updated with news and events. Your tax payers, believe it or not, are interested in how their funding is begin spent and this is how you show them that you are worth their top dollar (and even more). Is a website all daises and sunshine? No. As a department you need to lay down the law and stop things that can get you in trouble. If you are posting images of car accidents, incidents, patients, or anything else of that matter….STOP. You are setting yourself up for a lawsuit. You’re building an image of your department as a safe and professional resource…not the local road crew that does what it wants, when it wants, and chugs a beer when it’s done.

The benefits are obvious.

Lets say you build your website. What have you gained? If you put the right information on it you now have a platform for your community to learn who you are and what you do. You’ve created a beacon summoning volunteers to your cause or employees to your service and created a place where people can search and find you if needed and can contact you if required. You’ve created a place for people to donate. For example if my own department up above redesigns their website our community might actually realize that we’re volunteer, dependent on charity, and that their taxes really don’t support anything more than refueling the rigs. The benefits are astronomical but it takes someone who cares and is dedicated.

Good luck. Make use of the internet and grow your department.