Guest Editorial: The Eldest Provisional Firefighter
I was a paramedic when I stopped running emergency calls in the 1980s. It was a good run—about 12 years on the streets and maybe 10,000 9-1-1 calls, mostly with the City and County of Denver. I kept peripherally involved with the EMS world through teaching and writing until 2003, when I stepped away entirely to pursue other interests.
When my much-loved German shepherd died in 2011 at age 14, I began to think about getting back into EMS as a volunteer, maybe training a SAR dog. My life has settled down. I can arrange my own work hours, so I’m able and willing to leave for several weeks at a time, if called. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and humbly grateful for good health.
It seemed a good idea to renew some credentials while awaiting the arrival of my new pup. Last summer (2011), I took the EMT-Wilderness course in Lander, WY, because the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is a nationally-recognized leader in the field. The add-on of the wilderness component seemed appropriate. I came home to Michigan from my summer out west and joined the local fire department because I wanted to give back here at home, too, and also keep that new found (if basic) information fresh and ready to use.
Here’s what I remember about loving the work of emergency care: the patients. The unpredictability. The prehospital environment. Being able to step in and help in situations that are overwhelming to others.
Here are the three main reasons why I left: I admit, the shift work was a problem (it’s amazing how much nicer I am when I sleep regular hours). Burned-out partners with clear disregard for their own safety. They were frightening, since the silent code is that one backs up one’s partner (and mine were often trying to get us both killed). Then there was the bureaucracy. Recertification and the regulations surrounding certification just stopped being worth the time and effort after 25 years.
Here’s why I want to work in emergency service again: I love helping people. I really do. And I love being part of a team of (unburned-out) like-minded colleagues.
After several meetings with the chief, and then joining Ada Fire Department (MI), there was, of course, a lot of paperwork, including the application for a Michigan EMT card. Shoulda been a no-brainer, right? I had my NREMT and an EMT card from an internationally-recognized source.
The great state of Michigan will grant an EMT license to people who take a Michigan EMT course after they pass the NREMT exam. But it doesn’t allow NREMT reciprocity if the course was out of state, unless (and here’s the kicker) I add another 72 hours (!) of CE credit. That’s more than double what an already-licensed Michigan EMT would need after three years in order to recertify, but no one in the state office seems to think that’s unreasonable, illogical or nonsensical.
My NREMT card isn’t relevant, I’m told, because the busy folks in the state office said they just can’t go around checking whether out-of-state EMT courses measure up to Michigan’s standards—even if the applicant has passed the same exam Michigan requires of applicants who have taken an in-state EMT class.
My only other option, they told me, was to go out and get an EMT card from another state. Irritating, and expensive, but OK. This was doable. I applied in my old home state of Colorado and am now—once again—a proud card-carrying Colorado EMT (the first was awarded to me in 1977). I sent the required paperwork to the Michigan EMS licensing office, and—again—heard nothing. For two months. Not until I inquired about the status of my application. (The lack of responsiveness is a different, but no less questionable, situation in the mind of this taxpayer.)
After a total of eight frustrating months, I recently hung up the phone with the state licensing office, shocked to be told that the Colorado EMT card isn’t “good” enough for Michigan. Something the woman I spoke with admitted never mentioning previously was the out-of-state EMT license had to meet or exceed the Michigan standards—which include supraglottic airway, epi-pen use and albuterol delivery. I got the latter two at NOLS, but that was in Wyoming, and the Colorado EMS office didn’t know about that. I haven’t had supraglottic airway training.
Wouldn’t it make sense to let me do the training for supraglottic, clarify that I have the other two skills, and call it good? Here’s the kicker (right to my gut): Nope. If I want to function as an EMT in Michigan, I need to go out and get those 72 continuing ed credits on top of the NREMT card (which I’m guessing will be ready for renewal by the time I do all that). Really? Really?!
As I said, one of the main reasons I left EMS was the bureaucracy. I hoped things had evolved since the last century. Apparently not.
After a hefty pity party in the wake of the frustrating conversation with the state licensing office, the next round has begun. Fire academy begins in a month, and while I bring abundant EMS experience to the table, I admit to a complete lack of knowledge about firefighting. Although I have a mountain of information to absorb and many new skills to learn, my colleagues at the firehouse have been very willing to help their eldest probationary firefighter ever: me. They encourage me.
While I dig into fire training, I will continue my pursuit of that elusive Michigan EMT license. The state office has not heard the last of me! I look forward to serving my community as a firefighter-EMT. And when that puppy arrives, I look forward to taking my Colorado and NREMT and, yes, Michigan-licensed EMT self wherever we’re called to assist. Emergency service is still in my blood. After all these years, I can honestly say that I’m very happy to be back, bunker gear and all.
Kate Dernocoeur lives in Lowell, MI, and in the time since writing this for EMS World the EMT license finally (!) came through and a puppy named Mayzie (a thriving German Shepherd) has taken up residence. Fire Academy is underway and she's close to reliably hitting the required one-minute mark with the facemask/SCBA donning skill. Dreams are coming true!