EMS Week

EMS week is upon again. It seems that every profession and hobby have a National Day set aside. EMS Week

EMS as a profession has been in existence for less than 1/2 of a century. It started with the local undertaker and progressed through the years. Some hospitals started with horse and buggies as well.

I began in EMS in the fall of 1989 when I was hired at Monroe Ambulance as a basic EMT. Back then, there were only a scant number of paramedics in the Monroe Livingston Region, and only a few more Critical Care techs. Most of my shifts were either with another EMT or one of the wheelchair drivers. I was trained on the ABC’s and getting any patient to the hospital. This was just at the end of the Cadillac’s (Scottsville FD still had one as a reserve if memory serves). I didn’t mind having a chair driver as a partner really. They knew the county and the city like the back of their hand. The other thing they provided was an education. Yes, you read that right. I was from west Chili. I knew nothing about the life in the city, the lexicon, the streets smarts that they had. All of them educated me on the subtleties of surviving the streets. Some memorable guys included OJ, Manny, and a guy who’s shirts barely fit over his biceps. We did wheelchair jobs when we did have a transfer or 911 call. Everything was done on paper. No cell phones, and the old .340 reports to seven area hospitals were Genesee and St. Mary’s were trauma centers. My friend Jeff just returned from paramedic school and working in Grand Rapids, Michigan where it was a REALLY good idea to wear body armor. He found a copy of The Knife and Gun Club  that I still own today.

I went to EMT-CC school in ’91, but never finished my clinical hours to test. I carried on as a basic until I had one out of the ordinary call working at National  Ambulance that set me down the road to becoming a Peter Paramedic at MCC.

I have had the opportunity to work at many agencies, and I have learned something from all of them and the people I worked with.

Just so you are in the know, an EMT class is about 130 hours long. They can provide basic life support measures. A paramedic has the equivalent of a two year degree in medicine and can essentially bring the emergency room to you in life threatening and life altering illnesses and injuries. Most ambulances have one of each on board. Most work a 12 hour shift.

But I’m going to be frank now. It is going to a dark portrayal of this profession. This isn’t the same tribute that you will read everywhere else. If you get offended, stop reading. This is my view and my website.

EMS, at least in this area, and many other parts of the country is considered the bastard child of public safety. Sure we LEO, FD and EMS all have the patron saint of St. Michael the Archangel, and the FD goes a step further with St. Florian.

Not many places in the US do EMS providers work where they are afforded a pension like PD and FD. We tend to eat our own. We are the first to point out how the doer of the deeds could have done them better. Not always a bad thing when we are trying to promote education, but that is not how it is usually perceived.

EMS is a tough job. The hours usually suck, the person you work with you may despise, they may smell bad, and sometimes are just able to pass the exam and do not practice EMS to provide what my first boss told me in my interview. To this day Rick told me we treat every patient as if they were our mother, father, brother, sister, grandparent or best friend. I have slipped on occasion in this value, but not often.

The equipment sometimes fails, the ambulances aren’t always the best, supervisors aren’t always educated or possess the attitude or aptitude to be successful and have happy crews on the road. A couple of the biggest gripes are not getting out on time, and not being able to have a decent meal.

The job can get to you physically and emotionally. Your back can take a hell of a beating. Emotionally, the joys are few and far between. The deaths and people in the streets are often hard to take day after day. Depression, anxiety and PTSD are often the result. Friendships are born and broken, relationship the like,

The wages are not what the average John Q. Public think it is. A new EMT may make $`11/hour and a paramedic $17/hour. Sure after 10 years you could make $45K/year if you make it that long. Most EMT’s last less than three years. Paramedic school is just over a year long. If you get a thank you for your service from anyone, it is special, and few and far between.

Public safety is usually taken for granted until it is you the requires them. We saw an uptick after 9/11 in support but that has gradually waned even though FF that worked on the pile continue to perish from disease acquired from that tragedy.

On a regular basis we encounter drug users, alcoholics and the mentally ill who don’t have the care they need. There just isn’t enough cash in the coffers to treat everyone – and not everyone wants to be treated. Just like the police, we see the end results of domestic violence, the squalor that children live in and the violence they are exposed to. All of these things requires law enforcement intervention, complete with handcuffs and spit socks for patients. 

We also work closely with the fire department. They first respond to any serious calls of consequence, including allergic reactions, trouble breathing, and chest pain. We are at their side during rescues and house fires. We stand on the side of the road as cars whiz by inches from us at traffic accidents. Don’t forget the MOVE OVER law!

We train and recertify with the NYDOH every three years. High risk, low frequency calls are the worst. We all have an expiration date, and having a senior not survive a heart attack is sad, but a child is not supposed to die. 

I think I have been in every nursing home in the area. I don’t think I would want my dad in any of them. Ask any EMS provider if they want to end up in any of them. 

Charting is something that no one wants to complete. Why can’t we dictate like physicians? Even for a guy like me who likes to write, it is monotonous. 

There is some good stuff though. Friends that can last a lifetime, skills that can save a life – even off duty, teamwork with colleagues, firefighters, and law enforcement. The nurses and doctors and techs we see everyday. The traffic patterns and the quick ways around town. The places you probably wouldn’t venture without an ambulance as your ride. Truly saving a life. It doesn’t happen as often as you think, but when it does, it is all worth coming into work the next shift.  

I have hope for EMS in the future. It is coming along, but a long way from being perfect and seeing paramedics and EMS retire with a pension after 20 years. 

Even with all of the deficiencies in this path of medicine, I have friends who now are tactical medics, flight medics, nurses, PA’s NP’s and doctors – all who have used EMS as a springboard to a higher education. There is something special about EMS that keeps us working towards bettering our community. And there is still a lot of people who volunteer do this. EMS Strong.