Bad Publicity and Saving Face

Late last week Kyle David Bates posted an article from the Ithacan, a paper from Ithaca, New York about EMT Joshua Couce from the Newton First Aid and Rescue Squad in Newton, NJ.  In the article Justin 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 Couce 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.

Joshua Couce and Rick Wahlers standing with the squad's first response vehicle. Credit - Newton FAS Facebook Page

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 Joshua Couce had been suspended and disciplinary action was being taken effectively hanging Justin 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 Rick Wahlers was quoted in the article as well.

To read the article for yourself, follow THIS LINK.

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 Joshua Couce 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 2nd Lt Wahlers 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.

Photo removed at the request of one of those depicted.

2.  Joshua Couce – Joshua 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 Joshua 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.

A much better and more appropriate representation of the squad. Credit - The Newton FAS Facebook Page

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 Mr. Couce’s 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’


    • 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.

    • Frootloops421

      Im a little wary about commenting here because I don’t want to reveal my identity, but I do want to say that I was once a member of the Newton First Aid squad as a cadet and found the entire squad to be unprofessional. Those pictures are an extremely accurate representation of what goes on there and it was part of the reason I left. After leaving, I grew exponentially as an EMT and am now in paramedic school. If I had stayed with this squad, that would not have happened. My point is that the problems this squad has go MUCH deeper than this poorly written article.

      That said, I am a little concerned about the future of the squad – last I remember, Josh was the only person on the squad actually responding to calls. Not sure what’ll happen now that they’ve suspended him.

  • 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

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts as they are always welcomed here whether you agree with me or not.

      My opinions are based on how the squad was painted by the article and their Facebook page. I personally do not agree with the squad condemning one person for this as I feel part of it is a systemic failure of the squads ability to mentor a young, impressionable EMT.

      While the squad has the ability to handle this internally they made it a public matter by sharing punishment of Joshua with all of us on the Internet.

      Finally, I take this kind of incident personally. You are right: it could happen to any department, but the fact is incidents like this are far reaching and effect not only one department but an entire profession. Prior to last week I did not know anything about the Newton FAS but thanks to a few people who were (pardon my French) pissed off about how their profession was portrayed

      • 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

        As I said, I do not totaly disagree with some of your opinions. However, you deal out a harsh critisism for a volunteer organization that you do not know. To be angry at the article is one thing, to condem the entire organization is another. Especially since your blog is spreading across Facebook much like the orginal article did. I think before you sent something like this out, you should have gained a better prespective of the situation.

        As far as it’s far reaching effects, how much of those effects do we fuel ourselves? Every “share” spreads something that would have never gained as much attention if it wasn’t for Facebook. Lets face it, we are our own worst enemies that way. You can be pissed off and I am not saying that is wrong, but I ask you are your statements helping or hurting the overall situation? You created a blog and with that you have a certain amount of responsibility with what you share. I myself did not find this helping, especially seeing how it is being portrayed across Facebook.

        As for you view on mentoring, well it’s obvious you never met Josh. Thats all I am going say about that.

        Yes, NFAS did make their actions public in an effort to show that they were aware of the situation and taking appropriate action. You obviously did not see the amount of sharing and comments made. What should they have done? Said nothing? It’s usually routine for any organization to state exactly what the Squad did in a sitution like that.

        Newton Squad isn’t perfect and there is a lot I can’t defend them on. It’s a slowly failing organization who’s call volume has far exceeded its manpower, but it is still staffed by some dedicated people. That story is the same across NJ if not the Nation. This is a situation that could happen to any organization, career or volunteer. It only takes the actions of one or two to hurt the overall organization and those who put the effort forth, paid or volunteer. Before writing something like this again maybe ask yourself, would you want me writing something like this about you and your organization because of the actions of one or two? To me, seeing the situaiton for what it is and acting with restraint, thats professionalism.

        This isn’t the first time something like this has happened nor will it be the last. I understand your anger, but drawing more attention to it, what does that really accomplish?

        Stay safe

    • Member of 15 years

      Well said yankeeff66 and medic23. It is an unfortunate situation that has come about by someone that has been mentored by some of the finest EMT’s around, yes I am a member of the NFAS and I have to say yes Josh made a bad decision by over indulging in the truth, I believe that youth plays a big role in his decision making process. I am in NO WAY CONDONING his behavior or how he portrayed himself and the squad however there is not one person out there that has not made a bad decision weather it be in the professional sense or the personal sense, and unless your back yard is completely clean maybe people should reach out to Mr. Couce and help him grow and mature within the EMS community rather then hanging him out to dry along with the rest of the squad. As a second point of reference anyone that has knowledge of ambulances or even some fire trucks there is a safety device on then that limit’s the speed the vehicle can go. So instead of adding fuel to the fire as stated above maybe people should consider how they would feel if it was there organization that was being ripped apart, this is not the first time something like this has happened and I’m sure it will not be the last as the EMS community is taking on more and more young people.

      • Anonymous

        Member: Thanks for jumping in here.

        While many organizations are made up of some great people (I’m sure Newton FAS included) special attention needs to be paid to those young folks. I was there once and I feel VERY fortunate to have the EMS “up bringing” that I did, because I saw others who did not have it who handled themselves much like Joshua did, which I feel gives me a point of reference.

        Dealing with these situations can be difficult, especially for a volunteer organization. It takes tact, experience, and quite often a PIO to say the right thing to the media at the right time. It is a shame that Newton FAS has not seen more support from the NJSFAC in this matter. They MIGHT have, but publically at least if they have, its not evident.

        I wish you the best of luck with your organization. Operating a volunteer squad in the climate that currently exists in NJ ain’t easy.

        Thanks again for reading

      • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • Scott, I think the article was dead on, however there are some clarifications I want to make to the last paragraph. Here’s how I’d word it:

    For those of you not in the field; be aware that this article is not an accurate portrayal of what an EMS professional is. Joshua is passionate and motivated and we sincerely appreciate that, his zeal for EMS is palpable by the article. However, his enthusiasm is misguided; Joshua is the victim of a lack of mentorship and leadership that would teach him as a young EMS practitioner the value we place in competent and confident patient care. Joshua needs to understand that those stand before him, beside him, and behind him are fighting day and night to bring EMS into the new generation. We are a proud brotherhood of practitioners. We are not technicians; rather we are medical professionals with education and training that has granted us privilege to be an integral part in the chain of survival. The golden hour is not a deadline, rather a guideline for planning to provide the best care for victims of traumatic injuries.

    The bad apples in this paragraph should be an indictment of the NFAS. This is not to say that they are a poor representation of public safety, I’m sure in their history they have been exemplary stewards of EMS. The point is that they let down one of their members in a crucial time of professional development. The growth of an EMT begins at the day they join the service, not when they become ALS certified, not when they hold a position of responsibility. They need to have adequate and comprehensive mentorship from day one. New members will be enthusiastic, you don’t need to coax that from anyone. What new members need is coaching to properly advocate for the development of the profession. I want young EMT’s to talk to the press, I want their love for the job to be felt by the public.

    As for the “armchair quarterbacking”, we don’t need to continue a discussion about where the blame should be laid or how discipline should be doled out. The focus needs to be on how we as a profession can learn from this. Now would be a fantastic time for the Newton First Aid Squad to host a training seminar on how and when to talk with the media.

    E.G. – the scene of a wreck, send them to the PIO; wanting to know what it’s like to be an EMS professional, pour them a cup of coffee and sit them in the kitchen for a long story of love and heartbreak.

    Maybe, and this is only the perspective of a blogger and podcaster, this would be a great time to propose an inclusive social media policy. I’m sure many of those who posted in reply to this blog post have excellent examples of responsible social media use and could be a valuable resource for your department.

    These are just some points to think about. I don’t think what Joshua did was wrong, I think it was misguided. I don’t think NFAS is a negligent or a poor example of EMS, I think that they should have embraced this mistake, publicly learned from it, and used it as a way to promote the profession utilizing the media.

    Let’s learn from individual mistakes so that we can grow together.

  • 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

    Looking at the original story, it appears it was written in a college weekly newspaper, and it actually looks like part of the focus was about starting a campus-based EMS agency.

    The “100 miles an hour” line looks like it was written by the reporter, not a direct quote. It is unfair to blame that on Mr. Couce.

    I think the first question is what was the purpose of the original article. It sounds like it was a well-intentioned article, perhaps even to focus attention on Mr. Couce’s attempts to start a campus-based service.

    There are lessons to be learned here – and while Mr. Couce isn’t blameless, I feel the Squad deserves more blame. Just because a 18-year-old member makes you “look bad” in a small school newspaper almost 200 miles away isn’t a good reason to suspend the member – especially when ” “He has gone from a somewhat hyper teenager to a very calm, very resourceful adult,” he said. “He is one of the few people who I can honestly say that if I was ever in trouble, I would feel much better seeing him show up.” ” (excrept from the article quoing Lieutenant Whalers).

    We all make mistakes. This article should be a teaching moment for EVERYONE involved. A clarification/apology should be printed in the next paper, and that should be the end of this saga, as far as punishments go. Then the service should seriously re-evaluate what rules/restrictions they have about talking with media, as well as Social Media.


    • pamedic

      Josh, himself, replied to some of the people in the comments section of the article. He backed up all the info in the article and stated he had been traveling 100mph in an ambulance before. Promptly after all this started to blow up, all of his comments were deleted.

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

  • Anonymous

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

  • lynann edelman

    Has any one considered 1. This is a college newspaper and sensationalism is what gets people to read it? 2. This is an 18 year old child. This is how the average 18 year old thinks. Google psychology in reference to the stages of life. 3. How about putting some of the blame on the reporter? Did she hae to mention which squad Joshua worked on? Did she have to print his exact quotes if the articles basis was really about starting a collegel campus EMS team? Those quotes were irrelevant to the article and her editor should have asked her to rewrite it with the proper considerations as to what she was writing about. There is lack of supervision and guidance in every aspect of this article and too man people to “punish”. This should be a learning lesson for everyone involved. In addition, I wonder how the FAC will approach this issue. It seems to me that they are so far removed from the local fundamental workings of EMS, that they do not see how it is running itself into the ground. EMS in NJ is a dissappearing service, being taken over by big hospitals, mostly because of the lack of volunteers and in some instances poor management. This is a very sad situation. I am lucky enough in my community to still have a fantastic squad that is running full steam ahead and has the proper management and membership participation to keep it working at a superior level. that is not the case for most of the squads in the communities around it. I just don’t feel the FAC as a whole, has done enough to support the community squads at the local, state and national level and this article is a clear example of that.

  • 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.

  • Pingback: Kollege Kids Kreate Khaos with Sensationalized Story about a 100 mph freshman EMS responder | Firegeezer()

  • Larrydemt

    It’s been several days since the original article was published by The Ithican and the ripple effect has been felt far and wide . Both negative and positive effects have been brought forth by this article . The negative obvious both to Josh and the Newton First Aid Squad public embarassment and a publicity nightmare . The positive is the opportunity to look at all individuals providing a much needed service to our friends , family and neighbors (as well as complete strangers ). Josh does not stand alone in his seemingly careless driving habits and also mentioning details of any particular call . Unfortunately there are many who jump at the chance to drive an ambulance (let alone fire apparatus ) and it sometimes is in a careless manner . Personally I don’t have a problem respectfully letting my driver know that he/she needs to slow down , lay off the siren and airhorn and pay closer attention to traffic . In regards to talking to others about a particular call , my suggestion is to let people know that they are not welcome to ask nor would I provide information .

    It’s doubtful that at any time was 100mph any part of the equation but an exaggeration. With that being said even implying the 100 mph is a sign of being out of control . We read much too often of ambulance as well as fire apparatus crashes with horrific outcomes. Some of the supportive responses stated that Josh responds to many calls for NFAS , if thats performed in a responsible manner then that would be great . If it has been a habit to be reckless then it could and should have been addressed much sooner privately , not in a public forum.

    The emergency services profession is one of trust . You must trust that your partners are competent not only in their skills but you have to show a level of trust that your partners are not going to hurt you or anyone around you due to being careless .

    Being young doesn’t excuse Josh for his past behavior , he wears the same patch that anyone certified in the state of new Jersey wears . With the same expectations as anyone else . Newton’s Captain and Squad released a statement saying anything in the article that is inappropriate will be addressed . We need to have faith that any inappropriate behavior or actions will be handled from within fairly in accordance with their by-laws, sop, sog;s etc. . Fairly means that Josh is not singled out and made an example of .

    What will become of Josh ? One can only hope that this has provided some street justice in the sense that every one of us wants to go home after every call , no exceptions . Statistically we know we are all at greater risk every time we leave our stations . The injustice comes when we risk our well being and others at our own hands . Josh is young enough to recover from this act of public humility . I can only hope that he takes the advice of other responsible emt’s , medics etc. and makes the best of it . Noone , including myself is without fault , we’re human mistakes happen but please don’t place others at risk .