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.