Ever Ask Yourself Why You Are In EMS?

This is a guest post by Jason MacKenzie, NRP. I think he gave some great insight and opinion many will agree with. Check it out and leave your thoughts in the comments below.



Why did you take this job?

I have a bone to pick. I’ve seen a trend over the 20 years I have been in EMS. Firefighters work, love their job, take pride in it, maybe an IAFF sticker on their vehicle, maybe they wear an IAFF or department hat off duty. Police, go to work, love their job, take great pride in it, though they don’t advertise much off duty due to the fact that idiots abound and would likely vandalize their car, home or family. EMS……. we go to work, some love their job, most complain about running calls, many complain about move ups, and if you even think of putting a star of life window sticker on your car, or wearing a star of life hat, or t-shirt, you are the station joke! God forbid you have a waist pack that has basic tools of the trade within it, you are instantly known as Ricky Rescue. Why? Why on earth did you take the job?

When I became an EMT in 1997, I was excited. I was also planning to head towards the fire department as a career choice. After some time in the field, my desires changed and I realized I wanted to stay in EMS. Though the desire to run into a burning building still surfaces its head when I need an adrenaline rush. I worked as an EMT running mostly IFT calls (yes boring!!), I eventually moved into a slot within a busy 911 system in a major metropolitan area. I went to medic school. I loved going to work! And I’ll admit, I wanted to show pride in what I do. I occasionally found a decent hat or shirt with our Star of Life displayed. I chose to not buy it due to the fact that sadly the opinions of others mattered at that time.

I chose EMS because I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was working as a forklift operator in a PetSmart warehouse on the graveyard crew. I didn’t come from a family of public service workers, I didn’t grow up with crazy stories from dad about the calls he ran. I chose it because I wanted to do something with my life, and as I looked through the community college catalog “EMT” jumped off the page and sounded fun. I didn’t know I would love this job the way I do. In my career, I have worked the streets, I have worked in ER’s, I have been an instructor, and I have flown on helicopters. What I haven’t done is expressed the pride I have for what I do. I have allowed “the cool kids” to run their mouth and belittle those who show even an ounce of pride.

Our pride rears its head on occasion. A police officer dies, a firefighter dies, terrorist attacks happen, then suddenly our Facebook page becomes a memorial for 24 hours and then it’s back to ignorant comments. And we wonder why nobody takes us seriously? We complain on the very next call because it was a standard BLS call and didn’t involve arterial spray, mangled cars, and death. We complain because dispatch made an error and moved the wrong rig, or because another unit was 1 block closer to the grandma with abdominal pain at 0200hrs but instead we got the call. And lately, people are complaining about “no breaks to eat” on their 12-hour shift!! Are you kidding me?!?!

If you don’t like it, leave! Plain and simple. Maybe a job involving “would you like fries with that?” is more your style? Maybe you’d rather fold shirts for the display table at Target? Maybe that call center down the street is hiring? Or maybe you’re just not cut out for this job!

We claim we are a “family” when someone dies, or is hurt on the job. In reality, we are family when it suits us, and the majority of us have never once gone above and beyond to help those we call brothers and sisters. We have no respect for others in their beliefs, their way of life, and if they don’t fit in our small “mental mold” of what an EMT/Paramedic looks and talks like we instantly brand them. Lord help us if someone takes a small amount of pride in the private ambulance company they work for. Maybe if we step up our game, maybe our employers would see the need to step up their game. If not, then at least we have a leg to stand on when we try to fight for rights and benefits.

We must start working together to change the way we are viewed, the way we treat each other must change now! And we need to dig deep and grab hold of that pride we all had at one time. Being cool is no longer being the one who mocks the new guy, or mocking the one who does take pride in their work. Being cool is the one who comes in every single day, takes care of their gear/rig, is happy to be there, willing to take the trash out at the station, knows how to operate a vacuum, and has the heart and attitude to handle anything that comes there way (even when it’s not an emergency and you just drove Code 3 for 8 miles only to find out someone just bought a new home BP monitor and it hasn’t been calibrated yet).

Those of us that have been here for 20 years should not be complaining at all!! Our wages are higher (I started at $5.25/hr, how about you?), our gurney is now power (I learned on that aluminum Ferno with 537 pinch points….you?). We no longer have the Lifepak 5!! Those are now in the Smithsonian holding down the dinosaur display. Backboards are now a thing of the past. We have grown and improved. We have learned from mistakes. We have helped to train some in their new career choice. We have also forgotten why we came here in the first place!

I have recently returned to the field after a 3 ½ year break. My break was not from burnout, my break was to better myself and to take some time to really think about some personal things (I actually thought I was retired from EMS). Since returning, I have also realized after 20 years I had nothing to show for it. I had no photos of former partners or station mates, I had no ragged EMS t-shirt, I had no sweaty EMS fishing hat, I had no real connection to what I do. I had just the memories to talk about, and let’s face it, not everyone wants to hear those memories I need to talk about sometimes. I had no pride. I plan to stay in EMS for another 20+ years. I plan to further my career through education, volunteering, and being a voice that will change the culture of EMS. I plan to be alive to see the day EMS personnel are respected and respectful. I plan to be alive to see EMS personnel receive pensions and not just a simple 401(k). I plan to show what family looks like. I plan to be the change I want to see.

The Star of Life has meaning, 99% of us could not recite what each of the six points of the star mean, nor could we state what the Caduceus or Rod of Asclepius is (most are likely Googling it now). It’s time we represent that Star of Life in our own lives. It’s time we live a life worthy of that star. And, I’m buying a shirt.

Jason MacKenzie, NRP

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Cynthia

    I don’t know if it’s the Caduceus symbol or the Rod of Asclepius that EMS workers are concern about wearing. I often see Emts & Medics go home on buses/train wearing their Status symbol uniform proudly. A few even have their stethoscopes around their neck.
    There are T-shirts with fancy life saving depictions, including the Caduceus out there that people are proud to wears.
    Words like: Saving Lives, Hopes & Dreams, and Unsung Heroes are words we EMS are proud to show off.
    When it comes to Story Telling, we can chew your ears off.
    When you see a Front Page firefighter rushing a fire victim out, he is a Hero. But people don’t see the Other Hero waiting by the Ambulance ready to save this life.

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