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Some clarification before I retire (or at least before my next post)

My last post drew a lot of attention….. both positive and negative. I knew it would and it’s why I choose the title I did. I asked our Network (Fire/EMS Blog Network) to push it to some of our bigger audiences. I was putting my neck out there but that’s what I do. I was asking a question, posting some of my observations and asking for comments / debate. If you haven’t read it yet, please take the time and use the link below (but you can’t read JUST the title)…

Read “Is the Medic Mentality what’s actually killing the Fire Service?

Judging from some of the comments, I am a condescending,  egotistical, CLOWN who knows nothing about Emergency Medical Services and should retire (WOW … somebody actually knows me …LOL).  By some accounts, I am actually the root of the problem I was attempting to expose (me and “my kind” anyway).

I’ve never claimed to be a great writer. I know that I’m not and, quite frankly; I’ve never understood the popularity that this site (and my writings) attracts and enjoy. With that said, obviously; I must be doing something right.

I’m not the most articulate person. I write too much like I talk and I’m about as Southern redneck / cowboy as they come. I’m also a 2nd generation firefighter who speaks just that … “firefighter”.  I walk, talk and breath “firefighter” but for many, that definition in itself my vary.

You see, for me; the term “firefighter” is a “catch all”, “do it all” phrase if you will. To me, for example; the term “firefighter” should automatically encompass Emergency Medical Services. When someone encounters an emergency, they call the Fire Department. ANY EMERGENCY. House fire, stroke, vehicle accident, wires down, grass fire, chest pain or subject unresponsive, the Fire Department is expected to respond and mitigate the situation. I take PRIDE in that.

I’ve never understood why so many Departments these days call themselves “Fire and EMS” or Fire and Rescue”. The two terms should go hand in hand but instead,  the name alone indicates two separate functions and it shouldn’t be that way.

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In my previous post, I guess I also didn’t give enough of my personal background. Typically, I don’t write about in detail or mention the name of the Department I work in. I still wont but I will say that I am an IAFF (International Association of Firefighters) member. I work for a career, urban Department in SW Virginia. I was hired into a “Fire Department” in 1991 who then merged with an “EMS Department”  in 1995. I have held the rank of Firefighter, Lieutenant, 1st Lieutenant and made Captain in 2000. I’ve tested and  been ranked 1st on the Battalion Chief’s promotional list. I am currently an EMT-B but have also held certifications as Shock Trauma, Cardiac Tech and as a Nationally Registered Paramedic. As an EMS provider, I’ve worked in both the public and private sector, paid and volunteer.

It’s been my experience that most of these “mergers” I spoke about were not well thought out. They came up with the idea from the results of some study and then simply threw the two very different groups together (Fire and EMS). As far as I can tell, many never even considered the differences in cultures / mentalities of the two groups they were about to combine. They never thought about the effects such a merger would have on the members. I say this from personal experience and/or from e-mails, comments and conversations with friends, fans and readers. It’s my observation and I’m sure its not the case with every merger or with every Fire based EMS Department in the Country.

For those of you who presume to know me or think that I’m anti-EMS, you couldn’t be more wrong. Despite my youth, I was one of the more outspoken members in favor of the merger involving my Department back in the 90’s. It was an unpopular position at the time. I was a young cocky firefighter assigned to the busiest Engine in the City. Although the City (my Department) didn’t recognize it, I was also a Paramedic at the time. My favorable feelings toward the merger had nothing to do with my certifications though. To me, it was all about our “customers” .. the citizens we were sworn to protect and serve.

Ok, back to the previous post. In that post, and the earlier one ( How to kill a Fire Department ); I was attempting to make a point about poor leadership.  Poor leadership often results in low morale (among other things) which could equate to a lower work ethic and ultimately to poor customer service. Although I didn’t point them out specifically, many of the examples I was drawing from had Chief Officers who came from a strictly EMS background. I wanted to point out how Medics (or EMS personnel) are trained and conditioned (for the most part) to work alone. How I thought it was difficult (not impossible) for those same people to now lead a group of Firefighters who are trained / conditioned in a totally different manner. The exact opposite is also true. It would be equally as difficult for a Fire Chief with no EMS experience to effectively lead a group of EMS personnel.

My plans were to talk more in depth about Fire based EMS in a future post (kinda of tying all these together).  I personally think that it’s an unfinished “project” here in the United States. I also think it’s one we need to complete. In many cases, our Medics are treated as 2nd class employees. Some of the comments were dead on … sitting in the truck for 12 hours. Assigned to a street corner rather than a  house. Eating off your lap or out of a bag rather than at the table. Sleeping sitting up or on a stretcher. Poor working conditions and it’s all UNACCEPTABLE in my mind.

What kind of customer service do you think these folks provide? Good I hope but how much better could it be if they were treated differently? If they were in a better, more comfortable situation / work place environment.  What kind of leadership places them in that situation in the first place? What “numbers game” are they playing? It’s obvious that they don’t realize that their employee is their greatest asset.

I think Fire based EMS offers a positive alternative and can be successful when instituted properly. Now I understand that there are  firefighters who want nothing to do with EMS and there are Medics who want nothing to do with fighting fires etc. Can we change that mentality in the future? I don’t know. Why aren’t we working toward doing that right now?

A merger or Fire based EMS system also has to be done for the right reasons and it’s NOT money. EMS does not generate funds for a Fire Department …. not in the public sector anyway and I will debate that with ya all day long. The reason for such an undertaking should be CUSTOMER SERVICE and /or SERVICE DELIVERY.

As far as some of the comments in the last post, THANK YOU. At least you took the time to write down and share your thoughts. It’s what I asked for. As far as the criticism, I can take it but I’d ask you to step back and take a look at what just happened. We have a saying around here … I threw a rock and you barked! In a way, you almost validated my point. It seems like some of you actually drew the “line” that I said once existed. Again, maybe I didn’t do the best job of getting my point across. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions and I’m thankful to have this platform to voice them.

Strong leadership is what will build the next generation of firefighters and that’s no easy task. It’s important to remember that leadership begins from the ground level up. Without the respect and support of the members, a leader may very well become ineffective. There are many changes on  the horizon for the Fire Service and I’m excited to see what direction they may lead us in. We are fortunate to have a vast array of great leaders already in place within our profession with many more in the waiting. What kind of leaders do you have?

Stay SAFE and in House!

Captain Wines

 

Comments - Add Yours

  • bullets

    As long as fire based systems have EMS tracks below fire tracks in pay and seniority there will never be a common bond or brotherhood. When a city has 6 medic trucks on who run constantly, and dozens of engines and ladders who don’t, brotherhood can’t develop. The ambulances are spread too thin and dont have the down time to develop a relationship with other guys.

    We put three trucks on out of one building. I would love to cook for my Crew but We rarely have the time. Each truck will run 12 to 15 calls in 12 hours, while the engine might catch one. As long as that work load continues, there will always be Animosity

  • John Bondrew

    Hey Cap,
    I didn’t know you were a Medic too. Excellent. I worked for NYC*EMS when it was managed by the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation. It did as well as it could under the complete dysfunction of NYC.
    I left in 1991. in 1995, the FDNY took over EMS. From what my brothers and sisters told me, they got the best equipment, better benefits, but still very low pay compared to other Emergency Services. From the beginning, EMS was treated like the “bastard step child”, Some things have improved, but it is going to be a long transition.