Today’s correspondent asks:

Is there a legal requirement, when dealing with the community, for an ambulance service to present volunteers with a role-specific title on their uniform, such as ‘Ambulance Volunteer’ or can the ambulance service replace said title with an already distinguishable title such ambulance officer or responder or EMT??

There is no legal requirement to identify that people are volunteers.  The person’s employment status is irrelevant.


One simply can’t predict what will create interest. I thought this would be a short uncontroversial answer but the discussion on Facebook demonstrated that this was not the case.  A long, sometimes passionate and I would say sometimes off topic debate followed this post.  Below is a summary of that discussion and my conclusions.  As this is a blog about the law I try to limit myself to legally relevant issues.

1. Is there an obligation to identify someone as a volunteer? No. The question of whether or not a person is a volunteer relates to whether they get paid or not. That is relevant in industrial law, in the context of this discussion it is irrelevant. Both the paid and volunteer ambulance officer represent their service and respond as that service. Their employment status is irrelevant.

2. Volunteer status does not reflect skill set. The claim ‘a tertiary qualified paramedic is a totally different proposition than a volunteer’ is to confuse employment status with skill set. A ‘tertiary qualified paramedic’ is the same whether he or she is a volunteer or not. A ‘tertiary qualified paramedic is a totally different proposition’ to a well-trained first aider even if the first aider is being paid, and the paramedic is a volunteer. Doctors, nurses and paramedics volunteer their services; they don’t have lesser skills when they are volunteering compared to when they are ‘at work’.

3. The mere fact that someone gets out of an ambulance and has a clinical role is not holding that person out to be a paramedic. I agree with the comment “You’re not masquerading anything if you’re not using the word Paramedic. “Their uniform” suggests nothing to the patient other than that you’re engaged by the Ambulance provider to deliver a service.”

4. It may be useful to use badges and titles to reflect skill set but I do not think that has anything to do with patient protection or choice. A person who rings triple zero for an ambulance cannot insist that the service only sends paramedics. They may choose to refuse treatment from a person with a lower skill set but that would presume that they know what the skill set meant. The title ‘paramedic’ is protected, other titles (EMT, First Responder, First Aider etc) are not. That means that the ambulance services can use those titles as they see fit. The only people who will know what those titles mean will be others in the same industry and same service. That is useful so at the scene all the responders can identify who has what skill set and who can be tasked to do what. It is irrelevant to the patient.

5. Paramedicine does not ‘own’ prehospital medical care. There are many in the field, ranging from small volunteer first aid providers to, as one commentator noted, very expensive Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS). That no-one ‘owns’ pre-hosptial care is one argument for paramedic registration – now at least if someone has the title ‘paramedic’ it means something. It does not mean they are the only players in the field but they can be identified as paramedics. The claim “prehospital medical care is owned by paramedics in Australia” is not correct and is not reflected in the law and is not a consequence of paramedic registration.

6. “[P]rovide a level of care fitting all communities in all areas” does not require that every ambulance officer is paid, or that every ambulance officer is a paramedic. You may hope that everyone in Australia will get treated by an intensive care paramedic when required but that is not feasible and states and territories have to make choices on how to allocate resources. It is my understanding that every state and territory (except perhaps the ACT) uses volunteer ambulance officers. What level of training they receive is a matter for the ambulance services. If communities think they are not receiving an adequate service that is a political, not legal issue.

7. This debate has become a debate about whether or not ambulance services should use the services of volunteers (and I infer volunteers who are not paramedics). That was not the question asked but so be it. For a discussion on that point see…/the-role-of…/