On the Way to Paramedic in Northern VA

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Wednesday, March 22 2006
Us, us, us and Them, them, them

EMS providers are a strange breed. Generally, they're not just good folk, but nice folk as well. This isn't too surprising to those who may have run with volunteer companies. The people who volunteer are contributing far more than just the personal time they spend running calls. There's additional training, sometimes as much as a weekend or two a month, both mandatory and elective. There are those nights one is scheduled to run, and those nights where one fills in for a crew member who needs coverage. There are pub-ed functions and special events, county fairs and whatnot, where an ambulance or fire piece is on stand-by, staffed by folks who volunteer additional time to man the units "in place", just in case.

"Ah, what a fine bunch, truly a selfless breed," I hear you say. And you're right. Most fire/EMS companies like to think of themselves as "families"; with all that time spent together, one truly comes to believe one may count on his "EMS Bruthuz" both in the field and in personal situations.

However, All Is Not Sunshine, because at the bottom of it all EMS folk are people.

Take for example one fire station, the denizens of which we shall label the "Hatfields". The Hatfields are hardworking, hard-playing, fun-loving folk who live to serve, and can count on other Hatfields to shore up an unstable vehicle at an auto wreck, cover their backs at a fire, or lend them five bucks 'til Friday. They enjoy being at the station and providing community service.

Contrast them to another fire station, a mile or so down the road, perhaps even in the same county, but "separate" - we shall call them "McCoy". The McCoys are hardworking, hard-playing, fun-loving folk who live to serve, and can count on other McCoys to shore up an unstable vehicle at an auto wreck, cover their backs at a fire, or lend them five bucks 'til Friday. They enjoy being at the station and providing community service.

And yet, one may have come to the conclusion (based on the carefully selected names) that perhaps the "Hatfields" and the "McCoys" just don't seem to get along too well. If the McCoys get a good fire, one can just bet that the Hatfields are all over the details - which units responded, where they parked, how they set up their hose lines, how the fire was knocked down - and looking for mistakes. "Know what those dumb McCoys did?" a Hatfield will ask, and proceed to tell about it, for it is always true that if one looks hard enough, a mistake can be found.

This "one-upsmanship" is universal. It is prevalent in every state, county, city, and local EMS system. Heck, it's not even confined to EMS at all. Army troupers in "Easy" company will complain about "Dog" company. According to Heinlein it is a matter of faith in the Marines that Navy ratings don't wash below the collar-line. "Us" is good, but let me tell you about "Them"...

Perhaps DTs is just a little bit naive when it comes to understanding how unit pride works, for he feels that "I did well" works fine by itself without having to add, "... unlike that other ambulance on the scene. Boy! Lemme tell ya what they did."

When an event throws Hatfields and McCoys onto the same scene, they will work together quite well: Your patients will be removed from the auto wreck; the fire will be put out. And there will be stories told at the Hatfield station and stories told at the McCoy station, about what "They", those others, did wrong, stupidly, or inefficiently.

It's just a people thing, I'm sure. Even a "good" people thing.

Monday, March 06 2006
Master of Disguise

EMS is never out of place. For the most part, we feel equally comfortable in all situations. We can perform CPR at the bus station on one call, and on the very next call be at the Chez Chic asking Baron Von Strappon if this is the first time he's ever passed out face-first into the canapes.

But that's when we're working. Social situations, non-emergent situations, things are slightly different.

And it was a non-emergent situation in which DTs found himself last week, feeling very much out of place indeed.

An email arrived not too long ago proclaiming a Virginia Office of EMS seminar on the subject of Isolation and Quarantine.

"What ho!" said DTs, reading. "In the transport gig, we must conceivably take folks to and fro in isolation, this will be a fine seminar to attend. Not only do those going get Continuing Education Credits, but there there is food and it is free. Reserve my spot!"

The day arrives. Since DTs is taking only a half-day from work (trading in accrued paid-time-off from his own pocket) he is dressed for Action, rather than Style, the better to hit the streets at the conclusion of the festivities.

Now, DTs is not a seminar noob. In his ComputerMan persona he has attended many a seminar, throughout the country. Enter therefore the meeting hall with some bravado.

Registration - check, there is the table. Avail oneself of a sticky, write name on same, plaster to chest. Shun those who embellish their nametags with rainbows, smileys, and unicorns - this is serious business.

A binder, thick with Powerpoint handouts. Good on them, very together. Waltz into the meeting room. There are about a dozen tables, with ten or so chairs per, so attendance should be around a hundred, hundred fifty folks. As yet he spies fewer than a dozen people milling about. The breakfasty things are plentiful.

Sit and munch, slurp some coffee, flip through the binder.

DTs medic sense starts to tingle.

People are beginning to filter into the room, but the decibel level is much too low, could that be it? DTs scans the room unobtrusively.

There are suits, yes, that is expected.

There are police officers, in the kind of outfits they wear to Talk to Press;

Here is a doctor - but not just a doctor. The Doctor Who Runs The Biggest Hospital;

There are EMS and fire uniforms, to be sure - ChiefWear.

There are badges.

Lots of badges.

DTs is the only one here with a glove pouch on his belt and trauma shears sticking out of his pockets.

Oh shit oh dear. This is Executive Level stuff, not the nuts-n-bolts seminar DTs envisioned. Gulp.

This is no good. This is no good. Somebody's going to creep up behind me and tap me on the shoulder and tell me to leave, in front of the 150 most influential EMS folks in Virginia. Besides me, the lowest rank here is Mere Chief of A Countywide EMS System. I think the waiters have Field Surgeon Critical Care Flight Medic patches.

"Excuse me," the maitre-de will say. "Come with me, sirrah. Perhaps Cook can find you a little something in the kitchen, before we escort you to the gate."

"Who was that rapscallion?" a Chief will ask.

"Oh, that was DTs," the Governor's aide will say with a wave of his spectacles.

"Re-ally! He shan't run calls in my system!"

"How droll, Percivel," another will say, "Absolutely no one would expect you to let him."

"Ha ha ha ha ha..."

A tap on the shoulder-

"Holy shit!"

"Sir," asks a waiter, "May I take your empty plate?"

"Uh, yeah, yes, sure, thanks, thank you, man."

Stay cool, DTs. Exhibit that courage-under-fire that has made your name a household word in EMS. Remember that BLS instructors state-wide recommend their students write "WWDD" on the back of their nitrile gloves. Indeed, What Would DTs Do?

All baloney, of course, but I chuckle to myself and my tension lessens. I begin to enjoy myself.

And really, except for being way, way above my pay grade, this was a Very Neat Seminar, complete with Group Scenarios and things.

For instance, after all the presentations, there was a group discussion and scenario involving an outbreak of Fubar Flu or some such. Now, my level of experience has me dithering over whether to wear an N95 mask or a respirator; at best, say a really bad outbreak, I might just buck up to my supervisor the idea to make one ambulance the Flu ambulance so we can keep our response times down by not completely disinfecting the unit just to pick up another flu sufferer.

These folk, however, were doing all kinds of stuff - setting up MASH units here, getting court orders there, cancelling flights at airports, sending state cops to pick up vectored individuals for testing. Have we got enough vaccine? No? You - call Colorado. Oh, and get Smitty, he can set up an Air Force jet to deliver it. No, not that one. The Secret Jet. It's faster.

It was kind of like being a private in the Army and sitting in on a meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill and Eisenhower and Patton. Neat stuff, yes; informative, yes; that third-wheel feeling, though...

DTs knows when to shut up, so he never got started talking. Perhaps it helped, perhaps not, but no one escorted him from the premises.

And according to the VAOEMS site, there's another seminar coming up...

That was some good coffee. I just might go.


Posted Tuesday, April 04 2006 12:43  Site Meter