Somebody you love tells you they took “all the pills.” They say they are tired of living, tired of struggling, tired of being tired. You look around the house and find empty pill bottles where full ones used to be. The person you love is getting sleepy, fading away right before your eyes. You’re alone, it’s impossible to lift her, she refuses to cooperate. Time is ticking, you need help and call 911.
Five minutes pass, the sirens can be heard approaching, closer now, finally in front of your house. The person you love is suddenly alert. Some firefighters and EMT’s are at your door, a police car arrives.
“What’s all this?” asks your friend.
“I called 911,” you answer.
“You said you took all the pills.”
“No I didn’t.”
Now what. She’s not acting right, but not unright enough. She’s charming the responders, telling them she never took the pills, and that YOU are the one who needs help.
I’ve been the responder often. It’s never easy. I’m an EMT, not a doctor, not a psychiatrist, nor a social worker or psych nurse. I have no power over a citizen, other than my power of persuasion. It is difficult to explain to the average person exactly why EMT’s, Paramedics, cops and firefighters need to go through such a rigorous application process, psychological exams, background checks, agility and written exams. Many people will tell me that I’m not deserving of the good salary, better than average health care benefits and pension because I’m “not educated.” They go on to say that a thousand people are waiting in line to take my place.
I may not have a formal education backed by an advanced degree, but the guy who called us because somebody he loves needed to get to the hospital quickly was pretty happy that the group of people that responded to his home, and treated him and his girlfriend with professionalism, courtesy and competence came from a group of applicants large enough to find the ones that could handle his situation. And thousands more. All without an advanced degree, or in my case, no degree at all.
The current trend of cutting, cutting and cutting some more needs to be stopped. The repercussions won’t be felt by the people doing the cutting, they have the benefit of a good public safety workforce. It’s the next generation, the ones that will be protected by people who filled out an application because they needed a job-any job and heard the city was hiring.
Public safety is a vocation, a calling if you will. I am fortunate to be able to do what I do at a time that society valued its public safety workers. I’m not too sure about the future. When people apply for the job because the pay is average, the benefits stink and the work is dangerous, but they have no other option, society will get exactly what they payed for.
We stayed for fifteen minutes, eventually getting the girl to come with us. Turns out she flushed the pills down the toilet. The guy who called us was grateful anyway, and his friend is getting counseling. There is a lot of things that happen to people over the course of their lives. Good things, bad things, embarrassing things, things they would rather forget. Having people who are dedicated, caring, discreet and professional respond to their home, and know what to do and how to do it is one of those things they pay taxes for, and makes doing so a little less painful.