Thursday, May 15, 2008


Still in reference to Ambulance Drivers question "What steps need to be taken for paramedics to achieve equality in the firehouse?"

First understand that I am speaking from my own perspective. I don’t represent the entire fire service, and I can only speak of what I know and have been part of.

Any time you have different groups, the difference will be recognized. If you have a paid fire department, and a separate but equal third service such as EMS, the differences will be noticed. By both groups. Even groups who get along and like each other will notice the differences. You want equality? Then put everybody on the same team. No A team and B team. The team. All varsity or someone will notice and wonder if they are the varsity or the JV.

Take for example law enforcement. Fill a room full of city police and County deputies and see if you don’t notice groups of blue hanging out together and groups of brown hanging together. Why would they do that? They’re all LEO’s right? Don’t they do the same things? Yes but they are different. There will always be an us and them, unless we are all us.

Now, in the cities whose fire departments are just now getting around to noticing and taking an interest in EMS, there is a very big “us and them” going on. For years, sometimes over a hundred years, there has been the fire department. The fire department fought fires. Looking back it was a natural extension to do rescue work too. They haven’t done EMS. Somebody else has done that. And now that somebody else is going to be part of the fire department. “They” will be part of “Us” now.

It takes some getting used to.

On the other hand, lets look at my department. Long before I was a member, 1958 to be exact, my department started running the ambulance service in town. The department staffed the ambulance with firemen who had good intentions and band-aids. Barely a step above the previous ambulance service run by the funeral homes.

In the 1960’s after the White paper, and the Texas DOT got into the act of looking at EMS, my department started getting the firemen certified as first responders. Not long after came EMT certifications. By then they were truly doing EMS, as firefighters. Everyone hired after that point knew that they would have to be EMT’s and do EMS as part of the job. In the early 1980’s, my department began sending firemen to paramedic school. It was a natural improvement and a step forward.

Today, as has been for at least 20 years, being a firemen means being a paramedic. No one in our area (DFW Metroplex) considers them really different people. At least no one in the fire or EMS business. Kind of like Dairy Queen has ice-cream cones. Sure you can get a cone somewhere else. And you can go to Dairy Queen and not get ice-cream. But it never crosses anyone’s mind that Dairy Queen doesn’t have ice-cream. Firemen are paramedics.

In all but a handful of cities in the Dallas area (Fort Worth and Arlington being the biggest examples) if you are a fireman you are also a paramedic.

After getting through the hiring process, which by the way is pretty tough, the department will send you to school. First is the fire academy. There are lots of them around, they teach the State mandated curriculum in all of them. You get the basics of fire science and chemistry, building construction, rescue, hydraulics, the whole shebang. Total hours of training is now about 450-500 hours. Then you go to paramedic school. Paramedic school is the same for fire departments as it is for private providers. State mandated curriculum in the classroom, hospital clinical, and ride-alongs on an ambulance for a month. After all of that, you are a probationary fireman.

The guys at the fireman rank are all paramedics. So are most of the Engineer/drivers, as well as some of the Lieutenants and Captains. There is no “us and them”, there is just us. Our guys take turns on the equipment. Generally they ride the ambulance more often than they ride the fire equipment. Some stations have enough personnel and equipment that they ride the fire equipment more. But it is pretty much their option if they want to ride one or the other more, as long as they can work it out with the other guys.

In my own time on the ambulance I never felt or saw any us and them with the "fire crew" that day. Today I ride the ambulance, next shift I ride the fire truck. Kinda hard to play us and them when we all do it all. Some days who rode what changed during the shift, or from run to run. It's all but impossible to play teams when the players swap themselves so often.

If you want equality in the fire station, put everybody on the same team and then they are equal.

Mr Fixit


Ambulance Driver said...

Okay, here's one question. Everyone at your department is dual certified. I'm of the opinion that fire suppression and EMS are sufficiently disparate professions, both of them complex enough, that competency at both is achievable, but mastery of both is not. At some point, you have to decide where your heart lies, and where you're going to devote the majority of your time and attention.

Case in point: your dilemma last year about taking the EMS lieutenant's position.

Where di your heart lie?

Now I ask you this, if every firefighter must first become a paramedic before he even becomes a probationary firefighter, how possible is it that a big fraction of them view EMS simply as a hurdle to becoming a real, honest-to-goodness fireman? You know, something they do because it's a requirement to get to their real goal, not because they have any interest in it.

And if the only reason they're medics is because they have to be, how much time and energy do you think they devote to becoming excellent at it?

Because, as I'm sure you know, you can follow the protocols to the letter and still be a shitty paramedic - even if they're pretty good protocols.

You gotta do it because you want to, not simple because you have to.

Mr. Fixit said...

Good question, read my next post.


Gary said...

"If you want equality in the fire station, put everybody on the same team and then they are equal."

Horse crap. That's the way it was supposed to be in San Francisco and New York City. How's that working out?

Unless the top levels of management believe that the services should be equal and act accordingly. When a FDNY EMT is told that becoming a suppression only fire fighter is a "promotion" then it reveals the true character of the service. When suppression only fire fighters in SFFD get promotional preference over cross trained fire fighters it tells the tale of the culture.

When the suppression union leaders of both services continually denigrate the work of the EMS providers, it tells the tale of the culture.