Engine Company EMS: Embracing the Public

By Michael Morse

Too many of us have been attacked, shot, shot at, stabbed, punched, kicked, abused, and disrespected by the public we serve. Yet, besides the occasional patient with an altered level consciousness lashing out at those sent to help, attacks on fire and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel are relatively rare. We certainly have enough to worry about, considering infectious diseases, hazardous materials (i.e., asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals, and fumes), fireground injuries, and potential injury responding to and from emergencies.

People outside of public safety seldom hear of typical, “job-related” injuries. These hazards of a difficult job can, at times, be life altering and career ending, but they are simply not newsworthy. What does grab the attention of the media are gunfire, assault and battery, and unusual events that injure one of us. The opioid epidemic has been newsworthy of late, including the volatile nature of some patients revived with naloxone.

With all of the attention being paid to the dangers associated with human interactions at emergency scenes, it is no surprise that EMS personnel, especially firefighters who are often in first at medical emergencies, have adopted an us versus them mentality. Scene safety remains our first priority on every call. However, patients seldom are the primary threat. Ours is a noble profession, and risking a little to help our fellow citizens on an EMS call is a noble calling. Make no mistake, people can be volatile, and we must employ the utmost caution during every interaction, but even the nastiest among us are worthy of what we offer: expert, compassionate, and prompt EMS care.

As a member of an EMS fire company, I found a lot of job satisfaction on EMS runs. Training for and responding to fires and other nonhuman emergencies was great and certainly kept me on my toes, but it was the people I helped along the way that fed my firefighter soul. I never gave much thought to the human element when I was in the academy learning about hydraulics, ventilation, incident command, rope rescue, and rapid oxidation, but that human element is exactly what sparked and held my interest in the vocation when things were not on fire.

As our career in the fire service progresses and our education and training are put to use in emergency operations, we see, without a doubt, the benefits of paying attention, doing the evolutions, and thinking of the variables and how best to overcome the unexpected. Yet, a little something unexpected begins to seep in. We don’t train our emotions to respond to situations encountered on seemingly mundane EMS calls, and we don’t practice filling our hearts with joy or spend hours reading about the devastation that sometimes accompanies us. Yet, these are the things that will keep us intrigued, focused, and intent on being the absolute best firefighters we can be, even when being the best firefighter means being a well-trained, conscientious emergency medical technician who embraces the public we are sworn to protect.

Michael Morse is a former captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department (PFD), an author, and a popular columnist. He served on PFD’s Engine Co. 2., Engine Co. 9, and Ladder Co. 4 for 10 years prior to becoming an EMT-C on Rescue Co 1 and Captain of Rescue Co. 5.

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