NEW YORK -- Prehospital emergency medical care was still a new concept for most people when South Shore resident Monte Posner, along with millions of other Americans, enjoyed the first episodes of the television show, "Emergency!" The show originally aired between 1972 and 1977 on NBC.
Not long after, he was inspired to join the ranks of thousands of other young people and seek out training to become an Emergency Medical Technician, or EMT, and bring emergency medicine from the ER to the street.
Like many EMTs and paramedics, he started his long career as a volunteer. "My very first call was a cardiac arrest. I was the first one in the house," recalled Posner. "My heart was beating a mile a minute and I broke out in a sweat. I started one-rescuer CPR and when my partners came in, we switched over to two-rescuer. We transported her to the ER still doing CPR. She was pronounced (dead) a while later at the hospital. I remember I couldn't sleep that night or for a couple of nights after that. I just kept thinking, 'Did I do it right? Did I do it right?'"
After a few more months and several more CPR calls, he realized that, unlike the TV show, EMTs couldn't save everyone. It stopped bothering him so much and he continued to simply do the best he could.
Peaks and valleys
Like many emergency medical professionals, he was beginning to realize and experience first-hand the doubts, stresses and difficulties that eventually haunt nearly all rescue workers. But there were also rewards. "Six months after my first cardiac arrest, I delivered a baby," exclaimed Posner.
He eventually became a certified instructor and for more than 20 years he has trained new EMTs. Posner's also been the coordinator and instructor for countless refresher courses for experienced EMTs who must renew certification every three years. Some of his students have risen in the ranks over the years, going on to save thousands of others and moving into their own roles of leadership within the New York City Emergency Medical system.
Posner has, over the decades, juggled his life between being an emergency medical trainer and a mental health professional. He has been instrumental in conducting programs to help EMTs, paramedics and other rescue workers through periods of critical incident stress management and by the time the Sept. 11 tragedy occurred, he was already an experienced provider of this type of support.
Posner worked hundreds of hours assisting rescuers through the process of healing after 9/11. He continues to teach EMTs and his most recent class of graduates sat for their New York State certifying exam last week. His Web site (www.timeremt.com) provides information on upcoming training and opportunities to become a part of this challenging but rewarding profession.
Since Posner's start in prehospital care decades ago, the system has seen major changes. "EMTs now have protocols they follow," explained Posner. "Protocols have been developed to provide a standard approach for dealing with emergencies. It helps ensure that there's a standard of care."
Standards of care
In New York State, EMTs are basically following the same standards. If an emergency medical professional from Staten Island were to stop to help at the scene of an accident on a highway in Albany, for example, he would be able to easily work with the EMTs on the scene.
"Each region can set their own protocols, but there are state, as well as regional, standards," he added. Both sets of standards are quite similar and rescue workers are able to interact with each other far easier today than 30 years ago when standards for prehospital care were just being established.
"In New York City, I think we're very well organized (in our standards)," said Posner. "We have input from doctors and professionals from the fire department, major hospitals, major burn centers, and teaching hospitals and colleges." The standards are coordinated by the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council (REMSCO).
In 1976, REMSCO was designated as such by the Commissioner of Health of the State of New York under Article 30 of the Public Health Law. The membership of the council is made up of experts from all five boroughs and is comprised of professions from ambulance services, hospitals, the police department, the fire department, physicians, office of emergency management, public health officers, and the general public.
(Next week -- EMTs talk about their experiences, the challenges and rewards of emergency medicine on Staten Island.)
Gail Larkin's column on Emergency care appears Monday in the Health section. Questions and comments can be addressed to her in care of the Advance.Ever thought of becoming an emergency medical technician? To find out more about this exciting career choice, log on to www.timeremt.com.