New Puppy Embarks on the World of EMS

JEMS editor-in-chief teaches canine companion the ropes.



A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P | | Friday, July 1, 2011


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Bringing Up Bernie

Bringing Up Bernie
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I’ve always been a dog lover and have raised dogs for years. Putting my black lab, Sam, down last year was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. He was a great companion.

I never thought I’d shine up to another breed. But then I met a full grown, 130-lb. Bernese Mountain Dog perfectly poised in the back of a sport utility vehicle and looking like an incident commander in control of his crews, I fell in love with the breed and had to have one.

After waiting eight seemingly endless weeks for a litter of newborn “Berner” puppies to mature and be ready to leave their mom, I selected my new “friend” from a litter of 10 brothers and sisters. I was like a little kid waiting for Christmas Day to arrive.

When we entered the enclosure where the pups were raised, one male with massive paws and a face that said “pick me,” ran right over to my wife with an indescribable swagger in his gait. She picked him up; he made eye contact with me, and that was it; “Bernie” was my pick of the litter to join our family of three other dogs—and the JEMS and EMS family as well.

This big, lovable ball of fur is now in training to be a therapy dog, goodwill ambassador and support animal at emergency scenes. Because of the even temperament and cheerful disposition of this breed, they’re well suited to serve as therapy dogs. With one of the world’s largest naval medical centers in San Diego, I thought it would be a great role for Bernie, allowing him and me to make an impact on the lives of the many service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with major injuries that require them to spend months in rehabilitation.

At major incidents and USAR deployments, Bernie will not only function as a comfort dog, but he will also deliver medical supplies and assessment tools to the EMS staff and “hand out” water bottles in REHAB areas. He’s already learning to “fetch” equipment and items like bottled water—on command.

I’ve found that training Bernie is much like training a new EMS recruit. He wants to do a good job; he needs to learn the proper protocols and procedures expected of him, and, at the same time, he has a mind of his own and wants to have fun performing his job. I’m sharing a few of his training and operational tasks here, along with a pictorial review of his growth and development. Follow me on Facebook ( to watch Bernie progress into his EMS and therapy roles. JEMS

Training Checklist for My New Recruit
>> Follow directions and listen to superiors
>> Respond quickly when called
>> Don’t be annoying to others
>> Stage (“stay”) where assigned
>> “Sit” quiet and pay attention in classes
>> Be polite to the public
>> Be professional and shake hands
>> Stay hydrated
>> Offer rehab (H2O) to others
>> No whining!

This article originally appeared in July 2011 JEMS as “Bringing Up Bernie: New EMS puppy takes on several missions.”

Bringing Up Bernie

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Bernie 2

8-weeks-old: On the way to his Southern CA home

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Bernie 3

Bernie’s first visit to JEMS

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Bernie 4

Bernie at 10 weeks: learning the ropes

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Bernie 5

“Bernie” preparing for his EMS ambassador & Therapy Dog role

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Bernie at nine weeks: learning about REHAB

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Related Topics: from the editor, A.J. Heightman

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A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P

JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P, has a background as an EMS director and EMS operations director. He specializes in MCI management.


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