Bad Publicity and Saving Face

Editor’s Note: With this story now being five years old, I have removed the names of those involved.  I do, however, feel that there are a lot of lessons that we can learn from this situation.

Late last week Kyle David Bates posted an article from a New York State college paper about a New Jersey EMT from the Newton First Aid and Rescue Squad in Newton, NJ.  In the article this EMT describes such events as “driving over 100 MPH” in an attempt to beat the “golden hour” and being covered in a variety of patients’ bodily fluids.  The outcry and comments on the from EMTs, some of whom know this person personally, are mostly filled with disdain for the way the article painted EMS professionals as a group as an unprofessional group of adrenaline junkies more concerned about what they are able to accomplish with a heavy right foot than the outcome of their patients.

The response of the Newton First Aid and Rescue squad was to post a message on the department’s Facebook page denouncing the article, stating that the EMT had been suspended and disciplinary action was being taken effectively hanging him out to dry to take full blame for the statements and quotes within the article.  It stated that the article was written “without the consent of the squad and its officers.”  The only problem with that is, as KDB so aptly points out, the squad’s 2nd Lieutenant was quoted in the article as well.

The entire course of events is a real comedy of errors, the fallout of which is far reaching.  Not only have personal reputations been effected, but the squad’s integrity has been brought into question and potentially the values of EMTs everywhere could be brought into question.

1.  The Newton First Aid and Rescue Squad – First of all, a full admission of what knowledge of the article prior to its publishing needs to be explored and put into public record.  I am basing this off of the squad’s swift stroke of the virtual pen in putting the entire burden on the shoulders of an 18 year old kid.

Also, it would be wise for the First Aid Squad to take a closer look at how it mentors its junior members.  Throughout my time doing EMS in New Jersey, I encountered many cadets and younger EMTs.  Some of them carried themselves with a great deal of professionalism, others with an air of recklessness that could have potentially gotten them into trouble one way or another.  Most of them though fell somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.  Regardless of where they landed on the “cadet spectrum” they were all a reflection of one thing: the environment their mentors set for them.  Well- structured cadet programs can be very successful, and despite what some critics might think, younger EMTs can not only be successful in this field but they can grow to be productive leaders within the EMS community.  Although this person was not a cadet at the time the article was written, he is a product of the squad’s cadet program.

For the foreseeable future, the squad’s public image should be a main focus of attention for the officers and their members.  Portraying the department its personnel in a professional manner will be the key to rebuilding any trust that was lost within the community they serve.

Finally, since the “entire matter is being investigated” a public statement on the discipline passed down to the 2nd Lieutenant who is just as guilty in the grand scheme of things for his lack of attention to the squad’s public image.  As a leader in the squad, that should be one of his main focuses.

2.  The EMT – He needs to post an apology to all that were affected by this article.  First, he needs to apologize to the squad, the members of his community, and the patients he treated.  They need to know that they are in good hands and you need to remind them of that.

Next, I want an apology.  No, not me personally, but me, the paramedic.  Me the former NJ EMT.  Many people do a lot of hard work to improve our image within the public safety and medical communities as well as the public in general.  Articles like this are what hold us back.  They reinforce the misnomers that response times and speed are the key to success in EMS.  Also, despite what the goal of this article might have been, the lack of respect for the patients that he took care of is alarming.  We see people at their worst and they invite us into their homes and trust us with their lives.  There is an expectation that what they tell us and what we see will be met with a high level of professionalism.  Turning those patients into an object for our personal enjoyment is not the way to handle being an EMT.  Enjoy the job, and have fun with it, but always remember the seriousness of it.

After that, step away from the squad.  For a while.  Get your head on straight, and take a good hard look at your motivations within the field.  If you decide then that EMS is still for you, think about taking a second shot at it.  For now though, it is time to take a break.

3.  The New Jersey State First Aid Council – Hello?  Are you listening?  This is one of your member squads.  Maybe it is time to step in and offer them some guidance in how to handle the situation at hand.  In addition to his poor attempt at publicity for the field and his department, the Newton First Aid Squad could have used some assistance from someone who has a bit more experience in situations such as these.  They needed a public information officer who could speak for them and give the right answers to help them save face as well.

Since you claim to be such an essential asset to your member squads, let’s see you do something that does not involve the self-preservation of your organization as a whole.

Some might think my views of the NJSFAC are rather harsh, but let’s face it; they condone cadet programs, encourage the young and old alike to get their first responder and EMT training, and consider themselves advocates for volunteer squads and the profession.  Step up.

I’m sure that some of you had not even heard about this issue prior to now, and are probably thinking that I may be making a bigger deal out of this than I should be.  There are so many failures and lessons within this unfortunate situation that we all need to learn from.  It is every EMT’s responsibility when they are on duty to carry themself in the most professional manner possible, and when speaking of the profession, we must all do so with the utmost respect for our patients.  I made the mistake of forgetting that, which is proof positive that none of us are perfect.

For those of you not in the field though, know that this article is a poor portrayal of what an EMT is, how we handle ourselves, and how we view our profession.  You always have and always will have your lives resting in the hands of compassionate medical professionals no matter where you go.  Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bunch for you.

  • Vincen tcallahan

    Much respect 4 u guys and I ceratily always will, u guys need to give that BS break an upon completing of that task go to 1 of larger communities such as Newark, Jersey City, Flizabeth and certainly others and give up some of that available free time an become a real provideder.
    In any evet Much kove and certainly Big respect for for guys. And that respect is real people’

    Peace.

    • Steel315

      I don’t undestand how you can say that those EMT’s that serve in communities other than ‘Newark, Jersey City, Flizabeth(the proper spelling is Elizabeth)’ are not ‘real provideders'(again, proper spelling: providers). EMT’s, no matter where they serve, face the same medical emergencies and traumas. An EMT, no matter where they serve, is a ‘real provider’ and it doesn’t matter whether it is a city or rural area. If you don’t believe that EMT’s in the rural areas see the same types of calls as those in urban settings, you need to get out of the bubble you are living in!

  • Strong work brother. Well written. Good points too. Right up where you laughably mentioned the FAC and accountability in the same sentence. That was a nice touch. LOL!

  • Rob1

    Putting this on NJ EMS blog tonight.

  • Ambulance junkie

    I think this needs to be made a bigger deal of. It is stories like this that puts the hard work those of us are doing to advance this profession back 2 steps. Sure it can be chalked up to a young kid unversed in public relations who was excited about being interviewed. Though after looking at the photos from the facebook page I think it is a deeper problem than a young kid not knowing better.

    The only place I feel differently on is whether on duty or off we need to carry our selves in the highest professional manner. Sure we are allowed to cut loose once in a while to manage our high areas levels but this can be done while keeping an aspect of professionalism.

  • Medic23

    I agree it makes the profession look bad. But come on people lets be honest with ourselves. We have all told people about the bodily fluids we encounter. How fast we got the ambulance going etc. We may have done it amongst the privacy of are co-workers, and not in the public eye. But lets not act like none of has had that rush, or still have that rush of being a rookie. The kid is 18, and yes he screwed up!! But lets not hang one of are own out to dry because of some stupid, and immature comments. You all know you have had your moments.

  • Anonymous

    While I don’t exactly disagree with some of your opinions of the situation I do wonder what exactly gives you the right to condem Newton First Aid Squad for the actions of one or two individuals? I am curious to know where you think you have the right to question an organizations intergity and pass such judegments. Do you know the facts? Do you even know anyone on that Squad from which you are drawing this high handed opinion? If your such the conummate professional, I would think you would wait and see what actions the Newton First Aid Squad takes before condeming them so harshly.

    And for those who believe that more attention to this is the answer, why? What good will come of drawing more atention to this for either Newton First Aid Squad or NJ EMS in general? If you can tell me, I would like to know. More debate? More arm chair quarterbacking? Yeah, thats gonna help a lot huh.

    How about this, how about contacting the Squad and asking what’s being done? You have a right to feel that this poorly reflected the EMS world and it did. How about being the real professional and at least make the effort to find out whats being done to resolve this? Otherwise your really no better then the reporter who wrote the article, spouting off about something you know nothing about.

    This could happen to ANY organization, including yours! Would you want to be hung out to dry for it? Probably not. Actions are being taken. So before anyone goes and just pours more fuel on an already burning pile of crap, how about letting the Squad handle this internally first.

    For the record, I am not a member of the Newton First Aid Squad. However, unlike the author of this blog I do know some of the members. The members are just as horrifed as anyone else to read this Ithacan article.

    • Anonymous

      Sorry had little Disqus hiccup there….

      Thanks to some people who did not like how their profession was being portrayed this article was brought to light. Like it or not, it doesn’t paint our profession in a favorable light whether we have driven crazy, rolled around in blood and guts and brains or not.

      I wish the Newton FAS and their members well and I hope they are able to handle this matter in the right way and rebuild any damage the article might have done.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing your opinion!

    • Anonymous

      I don’t really feel that I am condemning the squad. This whole situation is a comedy of errors. It is ok the press, it talks about EMS and therefore I am taking time to comment on it and share my opinions of how Johua, the squad, and the NJSFAC should handle it.

      If we do not take the time to read about and armchair quarterback these things then how else will we learn from them?

      I don’t doubt for a second that you, me, and most of my readers understand the ins and outs of EMS but what about people out in the community who view us in a different light?

      What do you think the response would be if a police officer stated in an article that he “clubbed a guy with his baton once and it was pretty cool”. I view this as similar.

      Finally, departments I have been a part of have been dragged through their share of mud

    • Anonymous

      Again: I am sorry.. Disqus is not my friend tonight..

      I have seen my share of mud and contreversy, and have seen departments handle them in a variety of ways. Ultimately, we just need to remember that we are such a young field (both in terms of who is staffing the truck and the actual age of EMS relatively speaking) and we need to be mindful of how we mentor and teach those who are up and coming in the field.

    • First. not all units have a governor to control speed, those are put in after-market. Second, a line officer was involved and quoted in this article which then directly involves the squad. If that Lt sis not participate then yes, I can see that a young member made a mistake that his squad was not responsible for. Yes, this stinks to high heaven BUT it is a learning experience for everyone within our industry. It also notes that each and every department, no matter the size, should have policies on who can talk to the media as well as having a trained PIO.

  • Todd

    Well said… Thank you…

  • ffemt99

    I have seen more than my fair share of bs like this not only out of ambulance stations but qrs stations as well. While I still maintain that the lights and sirens send out a beam of stupidity I believe that there is no excuse for doing suck acts. Think about it from my point of view, Would you want an emt that acts like him working on your loved one? If the answer is no then he has to go.

  • Hsdavis

    Spot on!

  • Mr Kier, I thank you for your insightful post. Some of the points you address are valid. We, as the squad are aware of them. I will not address them in a public forum. However, I, as Captain of the squad, assure you, and anybody else concerned the issues are being addressed. Deborah Phillips, CT1

  • Anonymous

    Just so that there is no misunderstanding, any comments that are listed as “removed” were duplicates.

  • Art

    Thank you for writing a great article. I have volunteered for over 20 years is the EMS field and the first and foremost concern is my patient and my fellow crew members. It is important to bring home the point that faster is not alway better for the patient. I am a senior member of a volunteer squad and part of my job is it have new recruits serve under me. They are rated not only on their skills as an EMT but also on their riding abilities. All new recruit serve a minimum of three months of probation before being able to request full membership. Part of the process is to evaluate the new member by critiquing all aspects of their duties which include the manner in which they dress, the way the treat a patient, their skill set in regards to the patient and their fellow crew members. It also bring into play the manner in which they treat fellow agencies that respond on calls for example the fire dept. on MVA. The police depts. that also answer the calls along with the squad.
    In the end all members would like to go home to their families and friends so keep it safe for you, your fellow squad members and the patients we treat.

  • lungs

    Exhibit A. The Problem Volunteer EMS organizations cause.

    I’m Willing to bet this isnt an isolated situation… This one just happened to make it into the media.

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  • Bang-on!

  • Anyone have screen captures? I’d love to hear his side of the story.