Founding the Wisconsin EMS Association

In 1973, the founders of the Wisconsin EMS Association were putting the finishing touches on the creation of a new support group for EMS in Wisconsin. Just days before the end of the year, the Wisconsin EMT Association, also known as WEMTA, was officially born. The date of incorporation was December 23, 1973.

The founders of the Association and the initial board consisted of twelve directors, all but one of whom were from Milwaukee County. The Association, while endeavoring to be a state-wide organization, clearly had its early roots in the far southeast corner of the state.

During the early days of the association, the focus was on the EMS activities of Milwaukee and surrounding areas. A monthly publication, the WEMTA Journal, was soon started. By 1976, membership had grown to 150 people representing 47 different departments or agencies. For the first time, members began to join the association from outside of Southeastern Wisconsin. One year later the first annual Wisconsin EMT Association banquet and statewide business meeting was held.

By 1980, the WEMTA Board and committees had grown to include representation from across Wisconsin with cities like Stevens Point, Rhinelander, Superior, Green Bay, Marshfield, Eau Claire and many others having representation. With new people came new ideas and new directions for the association.

Renewed Focus and Goals

1982 began with a complete redesign of the association publication, The Professionals. As the year continued, every issue of Professionals contained timely and original articles detailing the activities of EMS throughout Wisconsin. With a new magazine, a renewed focus, and additional WEMTA chapters being created, the association had clearly arrived as a state-wide organization.

As the association began its second decade, frustrations mounted when service to WEMTA members became spotty and The Professionals publication often missed deadlines and was now being published only four times each year. This continued for several years until 1985 when a new list of goals was set. The possibility of a state-wide conference was among those goals. WEMTACON ‘87 became the first WEMTA conference ever to be held. The single day event attracted 60 participants in Madison on January 24, 1987.

Under the direction of new leadership, WEMTA’s second attempt at an EMS conference bore little resemblance to its first. Working Together In EMS 1988 featured a keynote speaker from Baltimore, Maryland, as well as 20 other presenters delivering 24 educational sessions. Over 200 participants traveled to the Olympia Resort in Oconomowoc for what turned out to be one of Wisconsin’s larger EMS conferences ever held.

By 1989, the Wisconsin EMT Association had posted three solid years of consistency. The association worked hard on a bill that would provide funding to nearly every ambulance service in the state as well as provide free initial and refresher training for EMT-Basics. The program continues today as the Funding Assistance Program (FAP), providing $2.2 million each year to Wisconsin’s ambulance services.

Valued Services for Members

In 1990 the annual conference became a three day event and grew to host 500 participants under the direction of many of the same staff members who would continue for dozens more years. WEMTA membership crossed 1,000 for the first time. By all accounts it appeared that the association had finally achieved the vision its founders had for it over 15 years ago.

In July of 1992, the WEMTA president announced the opening of an office along with the hiring of the association’s first paid staff member. New office equipment was purchased, a toll-free number, 1-800-793-6820, was installed, and all operations were moved to one single location. For the first time, EMS Professionals, a full-color magazine with regular columns and feature articles, arrived to the members of the association.

So many EMS services saw the value of their EMTs receiving a copy of the magazine that by the end of 1994, WEMTA membership had increased by over 50% to an all-time high of 1,640. By 1995 membership had reached 2,000 and conference attendance was over 1,300.

The association made a surprising announcement in 1996 that it had changed its name to the Wisconsin EMS Association to broaden its representation to all facets of emergency medical services. The change included the appointment of a legal adviser and a medical director to guide and advise the association. The continued growth also necessitated the hiring of a second employee as an association secretary was brought in to assist with daily business.

A new product called the Hot Sheets, was released and after record-setting attendance, it was announced that the Working Together In EMS conference would expand to be a four day event. Although in 1996 the Internet was still new to many members, the association was among the first to launch a web site at www.WisconsinEMS.com.

A long-awaited goal was reached in 1998 as the Wisconsin EMS Association announced it had retained Broydrick and Associates, one of Wisconsin’s most powerful lobbying firms, to represent the association in Madison on a daily basis. By this time, the Wisconsin EMS Association held little resemblance to the organization it was only a few years prior. No longer ineffective and slow to respond, the association immediately saw success on many fronts including, for the first time in many years, the political front.

As the 25th year came to a close, membership was at the 3,000 level. One full-time and two part-time employees were in place, and the Association was heavily involved in shaping EMS in Wisconsin. For perhaps the first time, Wisconsin EMS providers were consistently being represented in Madison. As evidence, a move to begin charging volunteer EMTs and ambulance services for their licenses was successfully defeated by the association, saving members hundreds of thousands of dollars every two years. At the same time, Public Access Defibrillation, allowing virtually anyone to operate a cardiac defibrillator, was placed into law with the help of the association.

Beginning of a New Century

As a new century arrived, dubbed Y2K, the Wisconsin EMS Association started the new millennium by kicking off work on one of the highest profile and most controversial activities it would undertake. The battle over Wisconsin’s long standing rule to require two paramedics on an ambulance would rage on for years and cost the association thousands of dollars.

In the end the rule was eventually changed and has resulted in dozens of new ambulance services being able to increase the level of care they could provide by moving to the paramedic level. At the same time, existing paramedic services were not harmed by the change as they continued to staff with two paramedics like they always had.

The Association hired its fourth employee after creating the position of sales and public relations director. The move was the latest step at increasing the membership base and out-reach of the organization. Although membership had already reached unprecedented levels, WEMSA saw a 33% increase in Service and Corporate membership during 2001.

Using its new public relations ability the association completed a high profile state-wide recruitment drive designed to help EMS services identify volunteers in their local community. During EMS Week 2002, well over 500 new EMS volunteers were found. The association garnered over 60 minutes of television time on 20 TV stations across the state, plus completed dozens of radio interviews and newspaper articles.

By 2003, membership topped the 5,000 mark making the Wisconsin EMS Association the largest state EMS or EMT organization in the United States. By this time, the association was providing dozens of products and services to its members including Group Buying, consulting services, technical assistance, a CD of sample policies and protocols, an EMS Cruise, promotional items including brochures and posters and discounts for related products and services.

Largest State EMS Organization

The 30th year for WEMSA kicked off by hosting the third most attended EMS conference in the United States. After holding steady at just under 1,500 attendees for more than five years, attendance at the 2004 Working Together conference shot to over 2,700. The exhibit hall alone grew from 15,000 to over 90,000 square feet and, for the first time in Wisconsin, showcased two EMS helicopters inside of the exposition hall. Several television stations carried the message to Wisconsin viewers by broadcasting live from the event.

To help support the expanded conference and the other growth a fifth employee was added to the staff providing print and electronic media management and support.

In the next two years, membership continued to grow by nearly 1,000 new members each year. By 2006, the Wisconsin EMS Association, as a state organization, had more paid members than some national EMS organizations. With a membership of over 7,000, the Wisconsin EMS Association was ranked by the Business Journal as the 11th largest member organization in Wisconsin.

In the summer of 2008 the association broke ground on the construction of a 4,200 square foot office to house the operations of the organization. The $750,000 project took nearly one year to complete from start to finish. In addition to headquartering WEMSA operations, additional offices are available for lease, resulting in additional income for the organization.

Fresh New Leadership

A new decade ushered in a vast number of changes for Wisconsin EMS Association leadership as a new executive director took over in 2010 replacing the previous executive director’s 18-years of leadership. One year later, in the summer of 2011, the first new WEMSA president in 12 years was elected. That was followed by the hiring of a new Working Together conference director who replaced the 25 year-run of the previous conference director. The changes didn’t end there as a complete list of new staff members along with a compliment of new board members would put a completely different face on the association from that of only five years prior.

The next several years would serve as a rebuilding period and include the implementation of a completely new accounting system followed by a new Internet-based association management system and website. As the Wisconsin EMS Association turned 40 years old in 2014, multiple new projects and changes, involving the conference, magazine and EMS Cruise, were all in the research and planning phases with implementation and roll-out planned over the next few years.

Working Together to Continue Growth

Currently, WEMSA has a staff of three full-time employees, several part-time employees and contractor services, a lobbying firm, an attorney/legal adviser and a medical director/adviser. The organization has become a model for other similar associations throughout the United States and is known nationally for its annual conference, its magazine, group buying program, and its innovative products and services.

From a small, all volunteer operation with less than $1,000 in assets, to what is now the largest state EMS organization, by membership, in the United States, the Wisconsin EMS Association continues to grow with seemingly no end in sight.

Through the continued dedication of the staff and board of directors. working together, we will be able to continue to represent the emergency services community and continue to grow as Your Voice For EMS.

Mission Statement

The Wisconsin EMS Association represents and supports the views and interests of our membership by Working Together as your Voice for EMS to promote education, share information, and facilitate legislative action.