(Editor’s note: May 21-27 was National EMS Week. A special thanks to Nicholas Heintz, Regional Director of Safety, Security, and Transportation at UnityPoint Health, for sharing this information.)
It’s a tough job, but the people who work in emergency medical services (EMS) locally are happy to do it. As part of National EMS Week, which ran from May 21-27, the T-R caught up with a few of them to discuss what drew them to the job and what they wish people knew about it. Their responses are printed below.
What does your typical work day look like?
John Gibson (EMT) — Our day usually starts out with a morning group briefing, followed by checking in our truck, washing trucks, doing chores to keep our quarters neat, throwing in some training as well, and trying to get out in the community. No matter what though, we are always ready at a moment’s notice to respond to a call.
Steven Sinnwell (Paramedic) — Not sure what a “typical” day would be as each day is different. All shifts start with checking the rigs to make sure we are ready to go. We then adapt and move forward as each call or transfer comes in. You have to be ready to think on your feet and “change gears” as it were at a moment’s notice.
Jenna White (Paramedic) — A typical work day for us starts with checking in our trucks to make sure we have all of our equipment and it is functioning properly. We also clean our trucks at this time. After our trucks are put together, we work together to complete chores around the squad room. The rest of the day we run 911 calls and transfers. When we aren’t on calls, we are working on documentation, training, and enjoying each other’s company until the next call comes in. Some days are fairly busy and we don’t see much of the other crews or the squad room.
What is a common misconception the public has about your job?
Gibson — The major misconception that I’ve noticed is that the public doesn’t know the difference between an EMT, AEMT, and a Paramedic. It’s not a problem to explain the differences, it’s just hard to explain it while on a call and time is of the essence.
Sinnwell — We are all “ambulance drivers.” Most people do not realize the training it takes to get your certification to start with. Along with the ongoing training to continue.
White — I think a common misconception the public has about EMS is that we are just “ambulance drivers” and that our job is to pick up patients and transport them to the hospital when in fact, paramedics go through two years of schooling, hundreds of hours of clinicals, and have to pass a national exam to earn their certification. A paramedic’s scope of practice is very similar to a nurse. In the field we can take vitals, start IVs, give medications, intubate, etc.
What is a major challenge you face in your role as an EMT/Paramedic?
Gibson — Language barriers have been a common challenge I face. I can speak a little bit of Spanish to get through with some patients, but there are lots of patients who speak other different kinds of languages. It’s nice to be able to have their family members to help by speaking English, otherwise I’m stumped until I can get an interpreter or get them to the hospital.
Sinnwell — I would guess that most people think EMS is an essential service like police and fire departments.
White — We face quite a few challenges in EMS. One of those challenges is that we have to perform tasks in any environment, and most of the time they are not ideal. Another challenge we face is treating our patients when we may have very little information on them, or if there is a language barrier, if they’re a child, etc. The challenges of the job are what we all enjoy though.
How long have you been in EMS?
Gibson — I’ve been in EMS for 10 years — four years as a firefighter/first responder, six years as an EMT.
Sinnwell — I took my first EMT class in 1985. I was out of it for a few years then took my second EMT class in 1995. I got my EMT-I in 1998 and my paramedic in 1999. I have been working full time in Marshalltown since 2002.
White — I have been in EMS for 5 1/2 years. I was an EMT for three years before obtaining my Paramedic License. I have been a Paramedic for 2 ½ years.
How did you start your EMS career?
Gibson — I started out as a firefighter/first responder. The fire department that I worked for in Pleasant Hill required that I get my EMT and so I did. That’s when I found I liked it.
Sinnwell — I started as a volunteer before coming to work full time in Marshalltown. EMS was something I had been interested in since childhood.
White — When I was 16 years old, I joined my local volunteer fire department to help serve my community and see what the fire and EMS service was all about. At that time, I wanted to be a firefighter when I graduated high school. I took an EMT course when I was in my senior year of high school and obtained my EMT certification about a year and a half after. I went to college and obtained my associates degree in Fire science. During this time, I still remained active in my volunteer fire department. I realized that I enjoyed medical calls far more than fire calls and decided to change career paths and become a paramedic. I went back to college and obtained my associates degree in paramedicine and then was hired onto an ambulance service!
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