It’s amazing how much a certain television show can influence your life. When Jack Webb premiered “Emergency” in 1971 I was hooked. As a Firefighter with my hometown Paid/VFD, I knew that EMS was going to break-out and I knew that the Fire Service was never going to be the same. It was something I HAD to do. I needed to be a part of this. Nevertheless, I went off to College at the University of Illinois and watched some of my brother FFs start training as Paramedics. I was NOT happy. I just needed to be in on what I considered to be the ground floor.
In the spring of 1974 I was an unemployed college dropout. In January, I had quit school (walking away from a full USN ROTC scholarship to The University of Illinois) and came home. I also found out I could not get into EMT Basic in the spring semester at the local community college and would have to wait until the summer term. Needless to say I had to get a job. I started Basic EMT that summer using the First Edition “Orange Bible” from the AAOS. That was 40 years ago next June. When I say that (40 YEARS!), I always wonder about the other paths that had lain before me. I always laugh when I look back and think how much my Dad wanted me to go into business, or to a career in the Navy, and I had to have the talk with him about doing what ‘I’ wanted to do. You see, from the beginning I could not even imagine doing anything else. It was the ONLY thing I ever wanted to do, the only career I could see myself in.
I studied my butt off; eating, sleeping, and BREATHING EMS. I was second in my class for EMT Basic and got a Scholarship to Paramedic Training at the local hospital. I was at least on the track, but knew employment possibilities would be small as this “Career” was in its infancy and I would have to expand my world if I was going to succeed. By May of 1975 I was a graduate Paramedic and was prepared to wait and see how the local Fire Departments would evolve to include EMS. When I used the word EVOLVE, I had forgotten that evolution can take MILLIONS of years and Fire Chiefs of the day were exactly the group that would have to face ‘natural selection’ in order for the NEW paramedic species to be able to get a foothold. I was stunned by the resistance of Chief Officers, and even more shocked to get that opposition from rank-and-file blue-shirts. The “Old Guard” was quick to protect the traditional ways. They did not want us.
In June of that year (1975) I happened to hear that the Chicago Fire Department was looking for and hiring Paramedics. On the off chance the information was accurate; I headed down to Chicago City Hall to inquire. They literally hired me on the spot. I spent the next 14 years working with my brother and sister medics (men and women have worked side-by-side in EMS right from the beginning) trying to mold a profession that would leave many of us broken, some in body and some in spirit. We survived a Fire Commissioner who did not want to lose his precious Cadillac low-rider ambulances to the more spacious Box/Modular units. We survived a Union hell bent on excluding EMS only to have them welcome us with open arms five years later, the day of the Chicago Fire Department Strike. We battled white shirts and blue shirts sometimes just for a seat at the dinner table. In the end, it didn’t matter, by 1988 I was gone, out on a line-of-duty injury that ended a dream; another had to be found.
By 1992, I had finished two degrees, and found myself across the country in Sin City teaching EMS at a local community college. In 1996 came the “new” EMT National Standards. You remember that? That’s the nightmare that gave us “The initial assessment”, the “focused history Trauma”, “Focused History Medical”… do I need to continue? Now, 40 years of learning, teaching, re-learning, teaching, and then “re-tooling” back to what we had in the beginning. This can really bring you full-circle AND make you appreciate your roots.
In 1988 I was asked to do a conference presentation at a symposium present by Industrial Fire World Magazine. I always had some ties to the industrial side of the business; I had friends and colleagues in the petro-chemical/industrial arena for years. The presentation was so well received that IFW approached me to write an EMS column for the publication. That year I took over as the columnist for their “EMS Corner.” That is almost 15 years ago and I have written for them ever since often leaning on colleagues for support and backup. This was a global in-road as IFW is read around the world and this international exposure had generated requests for information from Turkey, the Middle East, and Europe. I have always been proud of my industrial colleagues.
There really was a concept behind this musing, if you will. I remember in 1985, marking 30 years of age with 10 years on the CFD, I was branded a dinosaur. (I could not fathom this status at age 30 much less almost THIRTY YEARS LATER!) I don’t remember who said it, but it really hit home as to the job becoming a young man’s game. Today I came across a website for all my fellow Jurassic Medics called Dinosaurs of EMS (http://dinosaursofems.com/). May this also give you clarity about where we have been, and real impetus and strength to take us where we need to go today and in the future.