May 26 • 12:07 PM

No, we're not 'ambulance drivers'

February 20, 2008
Editor's note: The following guest column was submitted by Galland Burnham, director of Lapeer County EMS. Burnham was prompted to put pen to paper after reading an email entitled 'Ambulance Driver.' The piece hit home with Burham and his colleagues, and he hopes to enlighten the general public about the tasks they perform in our communities every day.

I am not sure if this is something that can be put in newspapers, but here goes. The reason this came about is because those of us who work in EMS (Emergency Medical Services) are easily offended. Yet I wonder if we should call it 'offense'because of what we do, and how many times during a 24 hour shift we may be called every colorful name people can think of. Or how we are verbally abused and often times hit, kicked, spit on, etc. yet we come back for our next 24 hour shift and do it all again. I think I personally would call it "hurt" more than offended.

I have spent 31 years in EMS and I have taken a lot of training during those 31 years, and I am truly hurt when people call me an "Ambulance Driver." I am a Paramedic not an "Ambulance Driver." It is true that I may drive the ambulance at times, but I am a Paramedic first. The definition of a Paramedic according to The American Heritage College Dictionary is: "A person who is trained to give emergency medical treatment or assist medical professionals."

As Paramedics we work along side physicians; we are trained to use many of the same drugs used by physicians. We are trained to perform many of the same medical techniques used by physicians. We train side by side with physicians in ACLS (Advance Cardiac Life support). We certainly are not physicians and I do not mean to sound like we are, but we work under their licensure when we are working out in the field. Some of the procedures Paramedics are trained to perform are: Administering cardiac drugs, anti-seizure drugs, D50 or glucose for diabetics, which is used routinely in the pre-hospital setting due to the high number of diabetics in the world today.

Paramedics are trained to use heart monitors (defibrillators) to monitor a person's heart. Those monitors and the Paramedics using them are capable of shocking a person's heart back into a viable rhythm, when without that it is very possible the person would die. Paramedics are trained to insert breathing tubes such as endotracheal tubes, or oral pharyngeal airways, or 'Combitubes' for people who have airway problems for whatever reason and are having difficulty breathing or may not be breathing at all. They are also trained to perform tracheostomys, which is the surgical opening in the trachea, better known to most people as the wind pipe, so that an individual, who would otherwise die as a result of no airway, will have a viable airway. Paramedics are also trained to start IVs which gives them a route to administer cardiac or seizure medications, or glucose in the case of diabetics. There are many other techniques Paramedics are trained to perform, which are used every day.

There are also Specialists, (or Intermediates, a step higher than an EMT and a step below a Paramedic) and EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) who are highly trained individuals who go through many hours of training and re-training to get their licenses to work in EMS.

These people are also trained to do many of the same things that Paramedics can do. In fact, Paramedics rely heavily on EMTs and specialists for support when out in the field. EMTs and Specialists are all trained to set up IVs and in fact specialists can actually start IVs just as a Paramedic can. They are not allowed to administer drugs, but they can actually start the IV and have it ready for the Paramedic if needed. Specialists can also intubate, insert airways just as a Paramedic can. EMTs are trained in the use of oral airways and Combitubes, however they are not trained to perform intubation or tracheostomys. Specialists are also trained to administer D50 or glucose through IVs in the case of diabetics.

There are many other techniques performed by specialists and EMTs in addition to those mentioned.

Everyone in EMS is required to renew their state issued license every three years, which means that they must attend classes which earns them continuing education credits to be used for their re-licensure. In addition they must attend many mandatory training sessions mandated by their agencies throughout the year. They are also trained in disaster management just as police and fire personnel are. In fact they attend the same training classes as do police and fire personnel. They are trained in the use of handheld and mobile radios, as well as a radio called a HEAR radio which is utilized by any hospital with an emergency department, to give the emergency physician a patient report prior to arrival.

Everyone working in EMS is licensed through the state they are working in, and about 10 years ago it became a state requirement that anyone being licensed in the emergency medical field be licensed at the national level, which means that they can go to any state that recognizes the National Registry and work in EMS once they have that state's license. Prior to the National Registry if they wanted to work in another state they would have to take an EMS course in that state and/or challenge that state's test. Now that they are nationally registered, they simply apply for a specific state's license. Currently there are 48 states that recognize the EMS National Registry.

My hope is that people who read it will realize that those of us who work in EMS are not just a bunch of "glory hounds," and we are not in it just to run down the road with our red lights flashing and our sirens whaling! We truly do care about what we are doing, and those we are helping. Up until 11 years ago, most of the people working in EMS in Lapeer County were volunteers and did what they do on their own, simply because they cared about people in their community, and wanted to help when they could. They also took the training on their own time, and paid for a good lot of it out of their own pocket. It is true that today in Lapeer County, most of those working in EMS are paid, however, we do still have some volunteers, who also receive a stipend, but it will barely cover the cost of a pair of boots or clothing that may be ruined at any time on a call. In addition, those who are paid, and do this for a living are not paid big bucks! In fact, an EMT can start out making less per hour than an employee at a fast food restaurant! You may find that hard to believe but it is true, and an EMT has many more hours of skilled training.

This is why we bristle a bit when we're referred to as "Ambulance Drivers." Hopefully, people can now better understand that EMS personnel are much more than that.

Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 26 - 19
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