Working Professionally with Local Government



Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P | From the June 2014 Issue | Thursday, May 29, 2014

Working with elected officials who don’t have an EMS background can be difficult.

I recently got a call from an EMS manager friend who shares my sentiment. He’d attended a city council meeting the night before—it was supposed to be an ordinary council meeting, but instead he felt one of the councilpersons turned it into an inquisition about the EMS system.

Armed with statistics and cut-and-paste material from the Internet about other EMS systems, the councilperson—who’d been in office for about six months—went slightly off the agenda and began a systemic dissection of the EMS system, speaking out where he thought it should be performing better.

On the issue of finances, the councilperson didn’t comprehend why, if you bill Medicare $700, Medicare doesn’t pay $700. “I don’t understand why we aren’t being paid for a service we’ve provided,” said the councilperson. He felt there were inadequacies and problems with the way the EMS system was billing and collecting funds.

“What do you mean we only have 57% collection rate? If I ran my business that way I’d out of business before the end of the week!”

The other councilpersons remained silent during the haranguing and some even tried to move the agenda along, but the newly elected councilperson was not giving up his questioning.

To get a better picture, I asked my friend a series of questions how the council person acts when not in a public setting. My friend told me he was very cordial in private, but in a public environment he appeared to be an attack dog on a mission. I next asked my friend if he thought the councilperson had some personal agenda, like to run him off. My friend didn’t think so but he really didn’t know what was driving the councilperson since he didn’t attack other the city’s other managers in the same way.

First, I told him not to take it personally. It might sound personal, but the fact the councilperson acts cordial in a private setting leads me to believe his motives aren’t personal. Perhaps he’s using his position as a bully pulpit to demonstrate that he’s a good steward of the finances of the community.

I told my friend to be well-prepared for the next council meeting. Go in with all your data, monthly reports and statistical information that can’t be refuted. And if he doesn’t have it, explain he can get it as soon as possible.

I suggested to my friend that maybe he have a private one-on-one meeting with the councilperson and bring all his data, monthly reports and statistics to explain his EMS system and how it functions. He should answer all the councilperson’s questions and be prepared to find out the answers to ones he doesn’t know.

If possible, get another influential councilperson to act as a mediator. This way, attacks can be prevented.

Above all, I advised him to remain professional in council meetings. Just because the councilperson acted borderline unprofessional, it won’t help the situation if he acted the same way. Remain above the fray.

We live in a democracy, and the councilperson was elected by the people—he’s their representative until someone else is elected. So, like it or not, my friend must respect the person and the position and provide respect to the office at
all times.

If you act professional and respect the position, you’ll gain allies without even trying.

Take every opportunity you can to educate elected officials on the successes of your EMS system and there will be less for them to criticize.

I’ve had my share of elected officials over the years who’ve been difficult, but find that respect and professionalism go a long way.

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Administration and Leadership

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Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, professionalism, local government, ems leaders, city council, allies, Jems Leadership Sector

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Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P

is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department. He has over 35 years of fire, EMS, and rescue experience. He is also the immediate past Chair of the EMS Section for the IAFC. He can be reached at


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