You’ve been running all day, and it’s 2330. You’re sitting at the dayroom table in your station, alone with a laptop, four charts behind and feeling pretty whipped. You’ve just returned from a nearby coffee shop, where your partner’s significant other works. While there, you were called upon to break up a fight.
Three noisy white drunks on their way home from a pro football game had taken offense when a pair of Latino men entered the place to get warm. The air outside was full of those cold, sharp, little teeth you feel in the fall sometimes, just before it snows. The two were obviously not dressed for the weather, and it turned out they had just been released from a detention facility about a mile away. One had dared to ask if he could use one of the sportsmen’s cell phones to make a call and as soon as their predicament became known, they were promptly judged, arraigned and convicted all over again—this time at no cost to taxpayers.
In retrospect, what you interrupted was shaping up as more of a beating than a fight. The diminutive victims didn’t seem like the sort who had ever offended anyone in their lives. They were timid and polite, and tried hard to back away from the shoves and slurs of the other three.
Despite their protests, you ushered the aggressors out the door and, joined by the baristas, welcomed the victims to sit down. Your partner insisted on treating them to pastries and orange juice, allowed them a phone call, gave them each a blanket, and prevailed upon your complicity in transporting them to a private address several miles outside of your response area.
Q. My partner is constantly doing stuff like this. We burned at least an hour and a half of sleep time taking care of these two, and spent a good 20 minutes in somebody else’s jurisdiction with no documentation. If we’d gotten a call, I would have been just as responsible as he was. Isn’t that kind of risky?
A. A little, maybe. Advocating for people comes with some risk. You should talk this situation over with your partner, soon. You both need to be on the same page. But to me, he sounds like precisely the kind of person you’d want to show up if you ever need a medic.
Q. That’s easy to say, but I think we were lucky we didn’t get another call while we were out of position. Our ambulance doesn’t belong to us. In our system, this kind of infraction would have resulted in disciplinary action. I’m just an EMT. I’m hoping to get into paramedic school soon, and I need to take a clean record into that selection process.
A. There’s nothing diminutive about being “just an EMT”; we’re all EMTs. And if you ask those of us who’ve been around awhile, you’ll find we’ve all survived some kind of disciplinary action—maybe more than once. Who do you think makes up the selection committees for paramedic schools? Yep, same folks. For whatever it’s worth, I’m always interested when I’m interviewing somebody and I hear they’ve been “disciplined,” especially if that led to termination. I’m interested in what the applicant did and why, and who terminated them for it. It helps me to recognize some folks with no common sense. But it also identifies great people with rare traits like courage and integrity. Believe it or not, you’re defined as much professionally by who wants you as who doesn’t.
Actually, the crux of this issue is that you probably did a better job of supporting your agency’s mission than you might do in a year’s worth of less challenging calls. There are many ways to save lives. Not only did you protect two innocent people in this case, but you probably also kept their aggressors from doing something really stupid that would have affected their families and the rest of their lives.
Q. Maybe. But I can’t help worrying about it. And as I said, our ambulance doesn’t belong to us. Who’s supposed to pay for the blankets?