Fire-based EMS has transformed from paramedics standing by in case of amputation, electrocution, cardiac arrest, childbirth, and worse into a medical transport organization, complete with a billing model designed to make money. The result is a lot of calls for routine medical care that are dispatched as an emergency. Disillusionment seeps into the most benevolent EMS people as they respond to mundane ailments. The fire side of fire/EMS is not immune to the misery trap either. In between fire calls, an endless torrent of “rescue runs” keeps the firefighters busy.
Writing for and about firefighters and EMS personnel from the ambulance officer’s seat is tricky on the good days, career suicide on the bad, and quite gratifying on the rest. I draw most of my material from the medical runs I responded to, and I try to keep things positive, but truth is, the ratio of misery to inspiration is greatly exaggerated in my writings, with misery beating inspiration by a 20-1 margin. Yet it is those moments of inspiration that make the misery bearable, though sometimes just barely. People grow tired of a disgruntled employee rather quickly, so I try to focus on the positive.
I know what you’re thinking: “If this is positive, I’d hate to see him negative!”
My family bears the brunt of my negativity. They hear the real stories and see the real me. What I write is an edited version of the truth. I honestly don’t start out trying to water things down, but if I were to write (and sometimes I actually do) what is really running through my demented mind, I might get locked up. On any given day in Providence, each of our seven ALS ambulances responds to 15 to 24 calls. There are stretches of hundreds of calls for which our services are absolutely unnecessary, people who live a stone’s throw away from an ER calling to get in faster, to beat the system, to use a resource simply because it is there. After 10 or 20 calls for 20-year-olds with belly aches and kids with fevers, the morale sinks mighty low.
When I see one of my colleagues on the downside of things, frustrated, annoyed, and plain old sick of doing this, I try to remind them of the tidal nature of things, sometimes the tide is low, sometimes high, and it’s up to us to ride the waves and find some middle ground in the swells. Sometimes it is them telling me to weather the storm, calmer seas are coming. Yet there is always something to hang onto, some little piece of the puzzle that will get you through the day. The old lady’s pictures of her family on the mantle, the 20-year-old kid with a stomachache’s kitten chasing your shoelaces as you walk her to the truck, the baby with the fever just being a baby with a fever.
Then there are the friends and acquaintances you make wherever you go. The hospital staff, the people at the coffee shop, the folks at the station and repair shop–everywhere you go there is something or somebody there to lift your spirits and get you through the next few hours. Though it sometimes seems so, we are not alone. Isolating is the worst possible method of getting through a shift. When we withdraw, as I often do, we are basically having a meeting with an idiot. There is a lot of empty space between our ears, and there is a cement fairy working hard to fill our heads with useless concrete.
There is so much more to see and be part of when we open ourselves up to a little help now and then. The people around you are there for you, and you are there for them. We create little communities as we work through our days; over time, those connections we make are an enormous part of our overall job satisfaction. Human beings, firefighters, EMTs, nurses, doctors, the police, people who sell us coffee and share a smile and hello, and even the patients are all part of our pack, and in those relationships we can find the essential ingredients needed to create a long, satisfying career.