Over my career in EMS, I have come to realize that our still relatively young industry is sorely missing the boat on educating the public and our public safety and health partners about who we are, what we do, and what we are capable of.
Nationally, most people still have significant misconceptions about EMS. Some believe all EMS agencies are part of fire departments. Many see EMS as a minor sideshow to our law enforcement and firefighting partners. There is very little consideration for the role we play with our local health departments. Some of our public safety and health partners don’t see us as equal, necessary, or part of the team.
There is no “one size fits all” EMS agency. This only compounds the misunderstanding. Some of the misunderstanding is due to the complexity of the EMS industry in general. Some of it is our own fault. We need to do a better job educating the outside world.
Some EMS providers feel we’re too busy answering calls to worry about educating others, but the fact is that if we don’t, all our pleas for equity with our public safety partners will continue to go unheard and misunderstood. If your agency has been able to educate local or state leaders to the realities of EMS so they see EMS as a vital or essential service, then you are ahead of the curve and deserve recognition.
I believe COVID-19, for all its negatives, has presented EMS with an opportunity to show the public who we are. It is important that public, state, and local leaders, as well as our public safety and health partners, understand that whether it be an active-shooter situation, someone burned by fire or a chemical, a manmade disaster or natural pandemic, basically anytime a human life is impacted by an emergency, an ambulance with EMTs and/or paramedics is sent, and the primary focus of those providers and that system become that human life it was sent to serve. It doesn’t matter whether the EMS is part of a fire department, police department, hospital system, or stands alone; EMS responds to 100% of medical emergencies in every community.
We see the public at their worst. We calm them. We provide lifesaving care and transport. In most communities this interaction can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours. The patient may die in our care. If the patient has horrific injuries, we see it for a prolonged period of time, care for the wounds, and then race off to our next call. We don’t get to choose not to respond to some emergencies. We don’t get to choose the age of the patient or the time or type of emergency.
During COVID-19 many EMS providers have had to do this with limited supplies and PPE and with fears of exposing loved ones to this terrible pandemic. Still we press on. We remain ready to respond each day and train and prepare constantly for what the future will bring. We are always there for our communities and strive to provide the very best out-of-hospital care available.
To our public safety and health partners, we will continue to support you and fight by your side however you see us.
To our fellow EMS leaders, we must continue to showcase our staff, all that they do and are capable of—not just during EMS Week but all the time.
To local community leaders, please don’t forget to recognize your local EMS agency for all it does and is doing right now. Ask how members are doing and what their capabilities are. Ask about how they can help the community “reopen” when the time is right and make sure their needs are met, now and through the fall. Ask about fiscal and staffing challenges and how you can help them pursue their mission.
To the general public, visit your local EMS, register for classes with them, ask questions, and attend open houses. Know that we’re here for you—always ready!
Michael A. Loiz is owner and principal consultant of the Public Safety Consulting Group (PSCG) in Shelton, Conn.