The website for the New York State Department of Health (EMS) boasts of “An EMS family of nearly 65,000 providers”; what is not stated is that “New York state has a population of over 19 million” – that means that each provider (if equally split) cares for potentially nearly 300 people each!
Despite the heavy ratio, there is (as the NYS website claims) “sense of pride, opportunity to help your community, sense of accomplishment, extensive emergency response training, and opportunity to advance in the EMS and health care profession”. Considering the long hours (averaging as much as 60 to 80 hours weekly) and relatively low pay, WHAT makes people want to make such a commitment, or want to see strangers “on (possibly) their worst day”? And add to that, “occupational fatalities among EMS personnel in the U.S. determined that they have a fatality rate that is about three times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers and is comparable to the rates for firefighters and police”.
Today’s EMS providers are called to incidents often not knowing what they are going to find on arrival, and they know that they can make a difference. Our ambulances have become “rolling emergency rooms”. Emergency treatment can begin as soon as a crew arrives to stop or slow further injury/illness, and sometimes even save the life of someone in need. Ambulances are called for life-threatening medical conditions like heart attacks or stroke; injuries from car accidents, falls, and fires; emergencies like CO poisoning; and miracles like the delivery of babies.
The responders can feel elated at their success… or sometimes they feel despondent when the patient care they render doesn’t save a life. EMS managers need to offer necessary mental health services and support to the providers who find it difficult to get past the things they’ve seen or the patients they’ve “lost”. In more recent years, it is not uncommon for entire crews or individual responders to sit in on debriefings with trained professionals. Short staffing may make it difficult for crew members to take personal time because of long hours or emotional calls. The managers of any EMS agency need thorough and intimate knowledge of what their crews may encounter and how best to assist them.
“CFRs possess the basic knowledge and skills necessary to provide lifesaving interventions while awaiting additional EMS response and to assist higher level personnel at the scene and during transport; EMTs conduct basic, non-invasive interventions to help save lives and reduce harm at emergency sites and may provide out-of-hospital care. Under medical oversight, EMTs use skills to transport patients safely, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), administer oxygen, administer glucose, and assist patients experiencing asthma attacks or allergic reactions.” (NYS Technical Education website)
So, why do we do it? Being part of an EMS crew is much more than just a job… it is a purpose. Once you complete your EMS education (and many can receive partial or full reimbursement), there are jobs open, often in your own area. Being certified as an EMT can lead to other health careers. And finally, working as a team and feeling vital to your community, makes it a very rewarding profession.