EMS Week is celebrated over the course of seven days each year, yet benefits can last all 365 days. That's because it's a win-win for everyone—for EMS personnel and the public they serve.
The week is designed to bring together local communities and medical personnel to publicize safety and honor the dedication of those who provide day-to-day lifesaving service of medicine's "front line." For many agencies, it is that … and much more.
"EMS Week is very important for us," says Chris Stevens, PIO, Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), Eastern Division in Tulsa, Okla. "It gives us an opportunity to bring what we do into the public eye. I'm always surprised by how many people think all we do is put people in the back of ambulances and drive fast to the hospital. We need to let them know paramedics and EMTs bring care and lifesaving service to patients as soon as we make contact with them."
Chief Ken Wilkerson, Hamilton County EMS, Chattanooga, Tenn., sees some of the same challenges, and some of the same opportunities. "By participating in EMS Week we can let the public know we are more than an acronym," he says. "We can sell ourselves and our profession. If we don't advertise what we do, if we don't emphasize our profession, then we've lost an opportunity to serve the public."
Honoring a Job Well Done
For both agencies, honoring their staff is at the heart of EMS Week. It provides an opportunity to pay tribute for a job well done, as well as focus media attention on the industry.
A highlight for Hamilton County EMS employees is the annual white-linen awards banquet. Survivor reunions and celebrations, as well as recognition for civilians who make a difference, add to the festivities.
"During EMS Week we can mingle. We can see what we've accomplished and see the difference we've made," says Wilkerson. "Most of the time we function under high stress and close scrutiny. We don't have the opportunity to be lighthearted. At the banquet we can sit down and share good times as family with partners and team members. It's important to get together with people we work with, but may not see regularly. And it gives everyone a chance to put names with faces and voices in a non-work environment."
For EMSA employees, food and fun are the focus. An employee breakfast and lunch, highlighted by a movie night and events with the local arena football team are a few of the week's activities. "With our high call volume, this is a hard place to work," notes Stevens. "Our paramedics and EMTs work hard and carry a lot of responsibility. It's important for us to let them know we care about them. It's one special week devoted just to them."
Sprinkled amongst the recognition and honors are public service announcements, media events, news conferences and health fairs aimed at educating the public. "EMS Week has been established, adopted and recognized," says Wilkerson. "One of the biggest complaints from EMS professionals nationwide is the lack of recognition and appreciation given to our industry. But if we don't take advantage of EMS Week to sell ourselves and publicize our profession, why should we expect others to do it for us? And how can we expect the public to know what we do? The ball is in our court."
Starting a New Tradition
While EMS Week has a relatively long history, for Kris Martin, volunteer with the Waynesboro (PA) Ambulance Squad, celebrating EMS Week is a recent occurrence, with 2010 marking the beginning of a new tradition.
"Our first year went very well," she indicates. "We received a lot of coverage and reached a lot of people."
Highlights included a health fair at two local Lowe's, a mock drill, school visits, a T-shirt campaign to advertise EMS agencies in the county and promotion of Reflective Address Sign Awareness Day.
"We hope to help people better understand who we are, what we do and why we do it," she says. "Hopefully, the more people understand, the more they will support us … with support being everything from financial support to simply moving over when they see lights and hear sirens."