Monday, March 25, 2013

A Chapter Ends.

The end of an era.  So much history and dedication in this building.  So many memories and tragedies so many drama filled afternoons it was as bad as a soap opera, still I'll miss it like I would miss a crazy uncle who suddenly bought the farm.   This is where I got my chops, it's where I became the clinician I am today.  The people here are the ones who groomed me, propped me up and supported me the whole time I was learning what it meant to be a paramedic.  The very same people who remained with me as I climbed the corporate ladder, past many of them.  They never left my side, they never complained that I got the opportunity to advance and they didn't.  They remained loyal and stayed beside me through all of it.  I can never re-pay them for that kindness.

The best and the brightest came out of this station. It's was a common term that when you came here it was your responsibility to get along with us not our responsibility to get along with you.  You either got along or along (down the road).

I'll miss this place.  I'll miss the people.  I'll miss the profound impact that the station and the spirit of the community had on my life.  There is not much of it I wont miss but right now I've got work to do.  I need to find jobs for those who are remaining on this journey with me and I have to write letters of recommendation for those who are choosing a different path.  Although this chapter is finished a lot of us will start a new story together and I look forward to writing about it.

Keep your head up, walk tall, be proud.  You served and served well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pot comments.

I've been writing this blog for years and it all comes back to one post I made on marijuana use.  I log in to see comments posted on an article I wrote 4-5 years ago... and a lot of them.

The simple facts are:
Marijuana is mind altering.
Marijuana is illegal on a Federal level with or without prescription.
Only 19 states have medical marijuana provisions. (
No states allow recreational marijuana use.

Every single comment I get accuses paramedics of destroying their liver by being alcoholics. It would seem that the "Pot-Heads" have no further argument other than to call all paramedics alcoholics.

Another simple fact is that alcohol is legal, marijuana is not.

My personal opinion?   Well, guess what... it's changed.  My opinion is that what consenting adults do in their free time that does not affect their job performance is their business. I wouldn't want a drunk clinician in a squad nor would I want a high one.  I don't use marijuana, but I can't say I wouldn't if it were legal, or as legal and controlled as alcohol.

Although my children would strongly disagree, I can't make policy for the world; I can't set the tone for an entire industry.  It's illegal, you will be tested.  If you fail the test you will be denied employment.  If you want that to change, throw more money at it.  Get a stronger political lobby.  "Smoke the Vote" but do so knowing you might go to jail for it.

Consider this.  How much money does the tobacco lobby have? What would be a great market for the tobacco people? Wouldn't it make more sense to try and leverage that industry and money than constantly fight it?  I hear how much "safer" pot is for you than tobacco.  It's all fucking lies, but I hear it a lot anyway.  I mean think about it a second.... burning substance (any substance), minus a filter = bad for the lungs.  You're going to get NO WHERE trying to tout pot as why try?   Get a few big tobacco companies in your pocket to push the agenda of walking into the store and buying "20 Class A Joints" and you might be on to something.

Personally if I HAD to make a choice (and I mean HAD TO) I'd rather ride in a car with someone high on marijuana driving  than someone twice the legal limit on alcohol.  I've never been to a domestic violence scene where the marijuana user was the aggressor but I have been to thousands of drunk calls that resulted in violence.

Until such a time comes when marijuana is LEGAL, not just decriminalized or legalized for medicinal use us poor alcoholic medics will muddle on.

Heres to your liver!

Monday, March 04, 2013


It occurred to me just the other day that "I'm the man" and not in the sense that I think I'm special or above anyone else; quite the opposite really.  Many years ago I started my EMS career and I never gave my advancement a second thought.  I loved what I was doing and if that came with more responsibility I welcomed the challenge.  As I sit and drink my coffee today and reflect on 16 plus years of service and some of the difficult decisions I've made it just popped into my head that I'm now the person everyone bitches about when shit doesn't go the way they want it to.

I'm "The Man".

We are losing hours:  Blame the man.
We are losing stations: Blame the man.

We are working too much overtime: Blame the man.
We are expanding too rapidly: Blame the man.

We aren't doing enough special events: Blame the man.
Damn these special event!: Blame the man.

I'm a decent sized guy, not too tall and not too round but kinda like a fireplug.  Just tall enough to be considered average and just broad enough to lay the weight of the world on my shoulders.  In all of my years on the road I never once needed the assistance of drugs or alcohol to cope with my situation.  I left work at work and tried to give more to my family every day.  Everything I did was to better myself and my family.  They were my rock; my guiding light.

Today, not even a full year into my new job as "The Man" my doctor tells me that my stress levels are unhealthy, my blood pressure is too high and I need to start taking meds for anxiety.  I said: "Doc I'm not barking mad or anything" "I don't yell and scream at my people or come home and kick the cat."  The doctor said: "You don't yet." So I took the prescription and rolled on over to Walmart to grab my nerves in a bottle. 0.5 Xanax appears to be the cure the Doc believes in.

You see, I don't have a problem with death and destruction.  I don't have a problem with the twisted and broken form of the human body.  I don't have a problem with mass casualties or disasters.  These things I can work through without a second thought.  I've managed hundreds of ambulances on a national level through more than 10 of the nations worst disasters including 911, and so many hurricanes I can't remember all the names.  I'm a paramedic and those things don't rattle my type, not even a little.

Now, with the above said if you ask me to call an employee and cut their hours or if you ask me to shut a truck down early or if you ask me to make a "business" decision to close a station I'm a nervous wreck. None of my training covers this shit.  I feel hopeless, lost and completely alone.  I carry that burden heavily and I share it with no one.   I feel the pain of every employee.  I feel the sadness and despair for their families.  I share their uncertainness of the future.  I wonder how they will take care of themselves and their families and it completely wrecks me inside.

When something like this happens the first question is always "Why?" followed by lots of more questions.  I generally don't have the answer they want to hear but I tell them the truth never the less. This is private EMS.  It's a company like any other company in the world.  They either make money or lose money.  When the losses exceed the gains for any length of time "adjustments" are made to keep the company profitable.

Then they tell "The Man" to give everyone the bad news.

CHUCK UFARLY IS ZER0... one and the same.  Nothing to see here, move along.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday...who loves Friday?

It's time we demand change.  No longer shall people get sick or injured from Friday at 1700 until Monday at 0600.  We have lives too you know!  Those that are on shift will appreciate the rest while the managers will scream about truck productivity.  Easy to solve this though:  If there are no sick or injured people from Friday at 1700 until Monday at 0600 there would be no need to staff any units, anywhere.  We all get the weekend off.

(Pipe Dream mode Off)

EMS sees Friday as just another day.  If you're on a rolling 24 Friday is nothing more to you than one of two days off or another 24 hour shift.  Supervisors don't ever get a day off, just a day out of the office.  Being on both side of the coin (truck and management) I can tell you that there is almost no difference at all.

I think I've worked about every job possible in the private EMS field.  As I sit and reflect on the last 16 years I'm happy that I always knew where I came from....even if I didn't know where I was going.  That's part of the magic and allure of EMS, each day is different yet very much the same.  You can know 100% of what you job entails but never 100% of what you will see that day.

So it's Friday and my week is blown.  I've had so much drama packed into a 50 hour work week that I couldn't possibly stand another day of it.  I've had meeting after meeting, conference call after conference call and run after run.  Some days I really miss the simplicity of the lights and sirens.  Some days I miss the purity of the sick and injured.  It sounds silly but at least I knew my place in the universe back then.  Now a days  I feel like a juggler with a show that no one finds entertaining.

Happy Friday to you all.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So you want to be an EMT?

I had this same thought about 18 years ago.  Light, sirens, rush,rush, rush SAVE A LIFE, BE A HERO!

Reality is very different than the musings of a young man bent on saving the world.  Reality is harsh and blunt and often a splash of cold water in the face of those who intended to make a difference.

Reality is Private EMS.

Out of ever 100 people who go to EMT school only 75% will complete it and pass.  Out of those 75 people only about 5 will end up on municipal departments, 40 will end up working in a volunteer setting only and the 30 remaining people will find themselves braving the wilds of Private EMS.  The above statistics are mine and mine alone.  I don't really care if you don't agree or have a differing opinion.  This is what I've observed in the last 18 years and as such I consider it fact.  Your facts my vary, so be it.

Bigger isn't always better.  You have the big ones like Rural Metro, AMR and Acadian then you have several THOUSAND smaller outfits.  Some are mom and pop squads and some are bigger players on the local or even State level.  They all deserve your attention and your scrutiny.

There are a few things you need to consider before jumping feet first into the acid pool that we know as private EMS.  I wouldn't be doing my readers any favors if I didn't try to educate you in even the smallest fashion before you made this huge decision.  Lets explore a few of these things:
  1. Is the service for profit or non-profit?  Seems pretty straight forward but there are huge advantages and disadvantages to both.  Your personal politics may play a big role in deciding who to work for.  Remember if you have picked EMS as a career you have already put yourself behind the 8-ball by not finding a municipal job but you can still become very successful working in private EMS.  You just need to make your decision based on your personal preference.  I wont tell you which I work for, it would only skew your decision making process and you really have to do this one yourself.
  2. Is there room for growth in both the company and yourself?  Another no-brainer for those of us who have been here for decades but a tough one for that 21 year old EMT that has trouble making ends meet.  Don't just jump at the first job that comes your way, remember at this time in the history of private EMS it's an employee market. Meaning more and more managers are competing for fewer and fewer "Good" EMTs.
  3. Is the company financially sound? Do a little digging through the interwebs here.  Remember, if they can't pay their bills how will they pay you?  All BIG companies go through restructuring at some point or the other so be wary of "Old" information.  How is the company doing now?
  4. What is the public perception of the service?  Nothing will grind you into the dust faster than going to work for a company that has a piss-poor reputation.  You won't save it, you won't make it better, you wont rise above it.  Unless the philosophy changes from the inside out it will only drag you down, kick the shit out of you and leave you feeling used.  The bright side of this is that when you walk into my office broken and beaten by crappy XYZ ambulance service you would have seen the worst and you'll appreciate what I have to offer you.
  5. Pay and benefits?  This one catches new EMTs all the time. XYZ ambulance service is paying 2 dollars more per hour than ABC ambulance service and they have offered me a job!!  Hell ya, I'm going to be making bank!  WRONG young EMTling, master tells you to examine the facts. The is a finite amount of money being received from all ambulance runs.  Every service charges pretty much the same to remain competitive and the Fed and State sure as hell don't pay a lot on the Medicare / Medicaid calls.  XYZ is robbing from Paul to pay Peter most of the time.  You can be Peter or Paul but I assure you, you'll be one of them.  You want to find a nice median rate with an insurance premium you can live with.  Uniforms should be provided (not payroll deducted) and you shouldn't have to pay for any pre-employemnt "testing".

Enough of that for now.  When you have considered those 5 things it will be time for you to start filling out applications.  This is where the fun begins!

If your handwriting sucks your application goes immediately into my circular file, better known as the trash can.  After all if you can't neatly fill out an application how in the hell will you neatly fill our a PCR in the back of a moving ambulance?  You'd be surprised how many people are denied jobs at good services because they lack common sense.

If you are asked to take a personality or Turing test understand that it is important.  Give all the questions some thought and realize that some of the top minds in the nation KNOW you will try to tell the employer what they want to hear.  They expect it, here is where it gets tricky; if you answer all of those questions COMPLETELY honestly you'll probably get a low score.  Seeing as everyone from the beginning of time has lied on those or "fluffed" their answers the curve is horribly off.  "Have you ever stolen company property?"  You answer NO, even though you glance at your pocket and notice 3 pens and a stapler you swiped from your last job.  If you answer YES to this you're pretty much out of the running.  It's bullshit, I know it, but this is how it has to be.  Trust me on this one young EMTling, I've taken and failed more of those tests than I can count simply by answering honestly.

Piss test.  Yep, it will happen.  Nope we're not dum-dums.  You can't fake it, you can't skew the results.  I'll just make you re-take it.  There is no "cure all" on the market that will take it out of your system, no matter what Tommy Chong says.  I've seen it all, heard it all and ya, done it all.  You can't fool me.  Get clean, then come take your test.  Although I don't think what you do on your off-time is any of my business, someone does and unless you have a medical pot card don't even bother wasting your time taking the test.  Probably better you don't even fill out an application until you are clean because it's going to look awful strange when you postpone your interview and whizz quizz for 30 days after you're called in.

Training.  Suck it up butter-cup.  Do as much training as the company will offer you.  This is free money and in private EMS it don't come around often.  During this time someone will either be showing you how to do the work or they will observe you do the work. That safety net is awful nice for your first few weeks.  No matter how well you did in school, no matter how much of a god-damn genius you are when it comes to patient care you still got to remember that I haven't met a patient yet who has read the book and dies as prescribed.  Go into your training like a fresh chalk board (I'm dating myself) ready to gather and store as much information as you can.  Show respect to those who have walked before you and for the love of god keep your mouth closed unless you have something relevant to say.

Be on time, every time. I've seen many a competent EMT lose their job because they were chronologically challenged.  No one cares about you except your mother.  No one cares you don't have child care.  No one cares your vehicle broke down.  No one cares your alarm didn't go off.  No one cares about anything except you showing up on time, every time.

Dress the part.  You're expected to be a medical professional, dress like it.  Learn to use an iron, never forget an undershirt. Polish your boots, comb your hair.  Easiest way to make sure you look the part is do a little research on military dress, learn it, do it.  You should have a stethoscope, penlight, trauma sheers and a notepad with pen and a multi-tool never hurts either. Without these things you just look under-prepared.  The opposite also hold true though.  If you walk in looking like inspector gadget with every bit of crap under the sun attached to your belt you will likely be scoffed at and asked to lighten your load a little.  We joke saying that the newness of an EMTling is directly proportionate to the amount of shit that hangs from them.

Well my lunch break is over; 9 interviews, 3 reports and a termination to go before my day is over.  I wish you the best of luck and I hope to see you become a successful EMT.  EMS is a very small community, we will meet at some point.  I'll be expecting you to be prepared.