What percent are you?

gasper m17(Image courtesy of the Gasper Township Fire Department, Eaton, Ohio)

Note: The bulk of this post deals with fire department EMS so if you are not in a department that does fire department EMS, you may find it uninformative. Those of you that do fire department EMS, read on!

As you can imagine, I spend quite a bit of time on social media. I have slow shifts like everyone else and I have time during my off time to decompress and be a couch potato so I try to read and follow other fire and EMS blogs and social media pages, just to get a feel for what kind of attitude we have as a “business”. As such, I read articles and posts from various authors about various subjects and in turn, hear various opinions about the same topics or subjects. I am no different. I propose my opinion on subjects and try to give some background as to why I feel the way I do. I will admit that I do not get to travel and dine in the finest firehouses across the country like other “bloggers” but I get a sense, from what I read, that the issues that I deal with are similar to other parts of the country. Granted, we have varying protocols and levels of service but we all generally follow the same basic underlying methods and practices to do our jobs.

That being said, I have read several articles about being part of a percentage of firefighters that “gives it their all” or “trains until the sun comes up” or “they are the salty dogs that you should look up to, seek out and gain knowledge from. Ones to model ones career after”. I don’t disagree with that fundamentally but I have rarely seen articles about finding the senior EMS guy or gal and learning from them.

I have learned from some senior folks. I soaked up knowledge and learned the tips and tricks that made me a better fireman (at least it felt that way). They made me a better operator and gave me perspective on how to train the new guy, now that I am the “senior” man on many occasions. I have learned from street wise and seasoned medics as well. I have always valued what I learned and have tried to pass it on as much as possible but I am starting to wonder what the current “senior” folks think this business is supposed to be like in 2016. My opinion of this job seems to get further and further away from their opinion and I find that curious.

I read recently that the FDNY and Detroit Fire are in the process of a major “overhaul” of their operations. Namely because of the fire load (the amount of fires they are fighting) has gone down and the EMS load is going up. That article struck a chord with me. Here are two of the busiest fire department in the nation taking another look at how they operate. I can almost guarantee that there are men and women in the FDNY and DFD rallying against changes. It’s what we do, right? Change is scary! From what I have read, the unions are taking what appears to be a “middle of the road” position right now so it remains to be seen how this will turn out but I began to wonder, as I stated before, what the senior staff thinks the fire service should be like in 2016. Were they surprised to hear that they need to focus more on EMS? I am reading as much as I can about their issues and it remains to be seen.

There is no doubt that the amount of fires have dropped off and the EMS calls have gone up in almost every area of the country. We are turning out on more and more weird and wonderful EMS related calls and even more that are due to the failures of the public health system. It’s a busy life for the fire department EMT/Paramedic and it will only get busier.

So what of it. What’s the point. My point is this; it seems like our senior staff members continue to tell our cadets, our rookies, our new hires that “slaying the dragon” should be the highlight of your career. That being the 10% firefighter is what it means to BE a firefighter. That “doing work” and “getting some” are what makes a firefighter a firefighter in the firehouse. That EMS is just something that we have to deal with, as if it will go away in the future. Is it really? In 2016, does that make you the model firefighter? I submit that it does not.

Time and time again, I hear senior staff complain that “when they backed the ambulance in this firehouse, we quit being a real fire department” or that we don’t GET to fight fires anymore because we are taking all of these EMS calls. Really?? You have got to be joking! When I was a Chief, I told my staff that if they continued to complain about EMS, I would pay them using the fraction of funds gleaned from putting fires out. Once I broke down the percentage of money they earned from fire and from EMS calls, they decided to be more proactive about transporting instead of trying to get refusals and they didn’t feel as salty about not getting to slay the dragon every day.

I don’t see putting fires out as the greatest moments of my career. Yes, I had some great times kicking doors in and throwing water and I still do. I love being an engine operator even more now and I love working on the truck but there is so much more I have done that I am proud of. I have touched so many lives over the years. Some of my greatest “holy shit” moments came in EMS. Some of the “jobs” that made my heart pound out of my chest were in EMS. Some of my proudest moments were in EMS and some of my biggest defeats were in the back of an ambulance. I have made a point to be the one of the 10% that completely changes the mood of an EMS scene for the better when I arrive. I have made a point to know more than the other guys about medicine and the future of our field and I share that with the new guys. I feel I am part of the 10% but for other reasons that I feel are just as important as knowing how to force a door 29 ways.

I am not saying that firefighting isn’t important work. I truly believe in training until you can’t get it wrong. I get just as frustrated with poorly trained firefighters as anyone. I watch the news or videos on YouTube and armchair it with the best of them. I have put as much effort into being a good fireman as I have being a great medic. I will never feel like a bad ass dragon slayer. It is not my nature. I come from a line of lawyers and stamp collectors, not blacksmiths, butchers or bodybuilders. I have never claimed to be macho but I can think my way through a difficult airway, a confusing medical call or a wicked trauma. Those skills are what makes today’s 10% in my opinion. We are EMS departments that fight fire on occasion.

I have seen the FTM-PTB (fuck the mutts-protect the brothers) stickers around and it makes me uneasy. Who are the mutts? Are they the ones that don’t think the same way about the fire service as you do? Are they the ones who think the medic is exciting? Are they the nerds? You should look around. Some of the leaders in this industry are hanging on every word that comes from NIST. The nerds are taking over so maybe it is time for a shift in perspective. I know the usual explanation is that the mutts are the ones who don’t care about training or drilling or working as a team. Can we put those hose jockeys that think that EMS is a stupid waste of their time in the mutt category? They aren’t embracing all aspects of the job, so does that make them a mutt? I mean, they have to stop dropping weights in the workout room or have to stop molesting the forcible entry training prop to take a stupid EMS call so do they have the right attitude about what this job should be in 2016?

The fire service is mired in tradition and therefore mired down in traditional thinking so I expect change to come slow. We still don’t realize that the equipment pays our salary so we don’t take care of it. We are slow to purchase EMS equipment that would drastically change patient outcomes. We are slow to support the part of our business that generates revenue. Big red firetrucks look cool but if the wheels are falling off the rig that supports 1/3 or more of your budget then why would you neglect it? It’s a weird business model that will eventually shift for the better.

I rambled a bit on this post but I hope you can get through that and see my point. It is time to redefine what we see as the “model firefighter” in my opinion. Knowing how to be successful in EMS will carry that firefighter into the future. Making sure they feel comfortable in an ambulance is just as important as them being comfortable climbing a ladder. This is a team sport so if all of the team members are not trained up, in all aspects of the job, the team will suffer.

I work in a department that, when you promote to Lieutenant, you no longer have to ride the ambulance. I was operating the engine the other day for a newer Lt. and I said “I trust you with my life in a fire but I am getting less comfortable with you helping me on the medic”. With a strange look, my Lt. said ” why is that, I’m still a medic”? I said ” it’s because you don’t see patients anymore. Your skills are going to fade”. He agreed and we had a good laugh but I was being honest.

So what percent do you want to be? I want to be part of the group that sees past what we are doing today and looks ahead at what we can become. As a Chief, I always was excited about well rounded employees because I knew I could plug them into any spot and they would excel. Can you excel in every spot? I hope you can!

As I have stated in the past, I am in no way an expert in the field. I am not a professional writer either. I just post my opinions in hopes that it will promote a dialog or get people to think about our business differently.

Thanks for stopping by and stay safe out there!

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