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A Musical Education

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Like most paramedics, Lt. Farooq Muhammad, EMT-P, of the FDNY, likes to make sure all his equipment is in good working order before using it. Cardiac monitor? Check. Blood pressure cuff? Check. Pen and paper for rap lyrics? Check. Video camera and film editing equipment? Check.

Rap lyrics, video camera and film editing equipment? The singing paramedic needs all of this equipment to be in good working order so that he can create informative rap videos that depict life in EMS. “I want to show the public what we do because they have misconceptions about EMS,” Muhammad says. “For instance, people call us ambulance drivers and I want to emphasize that we are not just ambulance drivers. I want them to know we have medical training. I want to show people the equipment we use, and I want to motivate my coworkers.”

Finding a Voice
While Muhammad admits he liked all kinds of music growing up in Brooklyn, rap was new and he found it interesting. So he started writing rap songs as a way to share his thoughts with his friends. “My friends told me I was good enough to do something professionally, but I said, ‘no, it was just a hobby,’” he says. “I never took it seriously. It was just something I played around with.”

But unlike many children who outgrow their creative pursuits, Muhammad continued to write rap lyrics well into adulthood. To date, the medical rapper has created six very popular rap videos that can all be found on YouTube. His first such video, Call 9-1-1, came about almost by accident. “One day, I was sitting in the ambulance with my partner, and I shared something I wrote with him,” Muhammad says. “It had nothing to do with EMS. It was just something about life.” His partner told Muhammad the lyrics were good, really good, and suddenly a light bulb switched on.

“I said to him, ‘you know what would be really cool? If I wrote a song about what we do in EMS.’ His response was that I should do just that.”

Muhammad took the advice to heart and wrote a rap song about emergency medicine. Then he took it to work to show his coworkers. They were all enthusiastic about the lyrics and, given that ringing endorsement, he decided to make a full-length video.

Making a Video
Muhammad contacted the FDNY press office to ask their permission to create and post the rap video online. He sent emails but didn’t receive an immediate response. “I’m sure they were wondering, what is this rap stuff?” Muhammad says. Curious about the inquiry, the FDNY did contact Muhammad and invited him to explain his project. After hearing his explanation, they gave him the green light and asked to see the video before posting.

Muhammad recruited coworkers and a fellow paramedic who had expertise in filming and editing. He reached out to a music studio that agreed to record him. When he showed the finished product to the FDNY, not only did they like it, but Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta loved it.

In life, timing is everything. Call 9-1-1 was completed in 2009, just before National EMS Week. “The chief of EMS loved it and wanted to release it during EMS Week,” Muhammad says. “We didn’t plan to release it then; it just worked out that way.” Call 9-1-1 has now been viewed more than 278,000 times.

Muhammad has followed that success with other videos including EMS Anthem, Blue Star EMS and Never Give Up. The videos have been viewed a combined one million times. Commissioner Salvatore Cassano was equally as delighted with the positive message and approved the next four videos.

Global Recognition
Because of the popularity of the videos, Muhammad’s celebrity now extends beyond YouTube. He has approximately 3,000 Facebook friends, has been a guest on The Today Show and been honored by President George Bush at the White House. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Muhammad says. “Who gets to sit next to the president having dinner, and then see him give a speech and mention you by name? It’s something I will never forget.”

He also has followers reaching out from all over the world. “People who are visiting the United States ask to meet me,” Muhammad says. “No matter where in the world they are, when it comes to EMS they have the same issues. It’s a small world and a small family of people when it comes to EMS, and these videos have proved that to me.”

Muhammad also finds recognition in Brooklyn where he works. “I’ll be somewhere doing my job and someone will walk up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you that rapping paramedic?’” he says. “One time I was buying a pizza and two guys walked up. One was wearing an EMT uniform from a private company and he said to his friend, ‘look, there’s that guy.’ And they gave me a wave.”
 
Acknowledging EMS Providers
While Muhammad appreciates the outpouring of support for him and his rap videos, celebrity is not his goal. The real message he hopes to convey in his unorthodox approach is that EMS providers work very hard to provide the very best in patient care. He wants the public to understand what paramedics and EMTs do and how they do it each and every day to positively impact lives and communities.

In the video Never Give Up, Muhammad vowed to drive home a special message. “I don’t ever want to give up, and I try to impart that in the video,” he says. “I want to show people that we don’t give up. We keep going and we stay strong.”

Muhammad also wants the videos to showcase the love and respect he has for his fellow workers and the EMS profession overall. “I always felt I could do different creative things, and rapping was one of those,” he says. “I found an outlet to use that creativity and a way to express myself in these videos that shows my love and appreciation for the job we do.”

Those words have more impact when you realize that Muhammad nearly lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center. It’s not something he likes to talk about. He found himself triaging the injured beside one of the towers before it fell.

Musical Instruction
Still, memories like these and the countless other calls he’s run give him the creative ideas that infuse his rap lyrics. With pen and paper, he brainstorms themes about his personal and professional experiences. “They stir thoughts in my head,” he says. “I replay calls I’ve had and try to tell a story. I try to be detailed, especially for EMS providers, in telling them not to cut corners and to be thorough, like wearing gloves and not getting stuck by needles.”

Muhammad also details EMS equipment and its use because he wants the public to better understand the role a paramedic or EMT plays in the medical field. “I try to let the public know that we intubate, defibrillate, read electrocardiograms (ECGs), and give medication,” he says. “A lot of the public talks to me and they tell me, ‘I didn’t know you guys did all that.’”

It’s clear from Muhammad’s videos and lyrics that he has real pride in EMS. He acknowledges its difficulties and stresses, but emphasizes the necessity for providers to stay sound in mind and body. He hopes his videos help his fellow providers remember that.

Ultimately, while Muhammad hopes that the messages in the videos resonate with all viewers, he specifically targets his fellow EMS providers, firefighters and police officers with the goal to help them understand that what they do matters—to their patients and their community. “I’m proud of what we do. We make an impact and a difference in people’s lives,” Muhammad says. “We’ve got to respect each other, respect ourselves. That’s the only way we’re going to grow, and it’s the only way we’re going to get respect from other agencies. That’s what I try to share.”

Indeed, that’s a rap.

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