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Emergency! 43 Years Later


I’d like to tell the story of two paramedics in a large city’s fire-based EMS service. Their names are Roy DeSoto and Johnny Gage. They are assigned to paramedic Squad 51. The year is 2015, not 1972.

Roy and Johnny are partners in the new paramedic service the fire department started. Roy has been a firefighter for some time, but Johnny is relatively new and has done EMS most of his time in the fire service. Both are trained as paramedics.

While there is some fanfare in the beginning, Johnny and Roy are now called “Band-Aids” by the “real” firefighters. Roy helps calm Johnny down, reminding him that being a paramedic is an important job.

Johnny is young and talented. Roy is a mentor and helps keep him focused.

It begins to get old when Johnny and Roy rarely get to finish a dinner or have any stretches of uninterrupted sleep like their counterparts on the engine company. It certainly doesn’t help when this is called to their attention regularly by the firefighters as the squad runs out to another call.

Roy is getting a little frustrated. Captain Stanley talks to him one day while sitting on the front bumper of the engine.

“We have an engineer opening on B shift, Roy,” the captain says. “You know you’ll never get promoted if you stay on the Band-Aid side of the house.”

Roy is torn between his partner and the engine company job. But he’d like to get paid more for doing less. He could use the money at home.

Roy leaves the squad and accepts the engineer position on the engine. Johnny is happy for his partner, but he will miss him. Johnny now becomes senior man on the squad and goes through several partners over the next year.

Johnny takes a few hits from the quality improvement committee that he probably wouldn’t have if Roy had been around. Dr. Brackett has noticed a change in Johnny’s attitude.

Johnny doesn’t want to leave the paramedic squad just yet. He still believes in it.

Another year or two goes by and Johnny is increasingly agitated by the fact that he gets paid less to take more calls. He sees Roy at shift change. Roy is rested and smiling. They take some time to talk and tell stories. Roy tries to help where he can.

Chet Kelly is a firefighter on the engine. He actually thought about putting in for paramedic school twice, but he was discouraged by his captain. It wasn’t worth it for the same pay and higher work volume. Plus, people now seem to call an ambulance for anything.
Meanwhile, Roy maintains his paramedic license but doesn’t practice often. His skills degrade significantly.

Johnny becomes increasingly bitter with the call volume and the fact that every probationary firefighter that comes into the station is assigned to him on the squad. He must train them in both EMS and firefighting.

One day, Johnny was helping a Schaefer ambulance attendant lift a patient when he hurt his back. His firefighter colleagues supported him, but reminded him that this could have been avoided by bidding an engine company shift years ago. Roy told him there may be a firefighter position opening up on his shift.

Johnny decided he had given enough. He milked the disability as long as he could, spending it on the beach in Laguna with a new nurse from the emergency department. He returned to the firefighter spot on B shift with his old partner Roy where they spend their time at Station 51 busting the chops of the new medics on the squad as they roll out to more calls than ever.

Dan Limmer has been in the emergency services for 36 years as a paramedic and police officer (and even a firefighter). He authors over a dozen EMS texts and co-founded Limmer Creative publishing smartphone apps. He is an ardent fan of the fire service and roots for culture change.

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