Grandma is exhibiting signs of a stroke. Grandpa immediately calls 9-1-1 and your agency responds. You and your partner quickly and skillfully attend to her needs and she recovers without deficits.
Wouldn't it be great if all calls ended as successfully?
Adam King, a paramedic in Alameda County, CA, suggests that success is often dependent on more than just properly performing medical procedures. Oftentimes, it is also dependent on a patient's knowledge about what making a 9-1-1 call actually means, and when it should be made.
The desire to educate the public, along with a desire to be more involved in the community, was the only motivation King needed to organize a public speaking team for his Alameda County ambulance company. Its mission is to provide the public with accurate knowledge of the role and responsibility of EMS in the community.
"My manager felt we should be more involved in the community," King relates. "We met with several supervisors to talk about different ways to do that, and one idea that came up was to go out and do public speaking to community groups and schools to let them know what we do.
"We've had ambulances for 50 to 60 years, but we've only had paramedics for about 35 to 40," he continues. "People often still think we're only ambulances drivers. They don't realize we can treat their pain, we can help their breathing, etc. There are so many great systems in place. The problem is that the public isn't educated about when to access those systems. And if ambulance companies aren't telling them when to call, no one will be telling them."
Tailor the Message
King embarked on his public speaking mission about a year ago, making initial calls to community organizations, including Rotary Clubs, Toastmasters' groups, schools, etc.
For each group he tailors the message for greatest effect. For adults, he and his team focus identifying symptoms of heart disease and stroke.
"We stress that if people are having chest pains or slurred speech, etc. call us immediately," he says. "Some adults seem to be nervous or ashamed to make that call. But don't wait.
"There can be a lot of misinformation out there," he continues, recalling a session he had with local Visiting Angels, a group which provides non-medical care for senior residents. "This was especially beneficial because they had been told by a doctor to wait four hours after the onset of stroke symptoms before calling 9-1-1. I was happy we were able to clarify that we only have a four-hour stroke window, so don't wait."
For children, the message focuses on explaining the process of what happens when an ambulance arrives at a call.
"Being transported in an ambulance can be scary for kids," he says. "We explain to them what we do, that we can help them. We also give them a tour of the ambulance."
Teenagers can be an especially challenging group to reach, so King focuses on making presentations interactive. For example, at one high school career day they asked for volunteer victims and responders who role played the call, including strapping the victim onto a backboard.
"We also asked for stories from the audience," he says. "We had one student who talked about how he broke his collar bone and was transported in the ambulance. He made it okay for everyone else to be involved in the discussion."
You Can Make a Difference
King offers these tips to others who might be interested in public speaking in their communities:
Look within your agency -- "We all have connections," he says. "Talk to employees. They're the ones on the streets every day."
King also feels there's a benefit when paramedics and EMTs deliver the message. "We can share real-life experiences," he stresses. "We can talk about the call last week where Joe Smith was experiencing stroke symptoms. His wife called five minutes after they began and now he has made a complete recovery."
Create an incentive -- King's ambulance company schedules speaking engagements during on-duty shifts. "They put us out of service and staff another ambulance," he says. "It works out well since we can also incorporate activities from our day into the discussion."