Editor's Note: Below is JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman's speech for the 2010 National EMS Memorial Service on June 26 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
I am honored to have been asked to speak at the 18th annual EMS Memorial Service.
I want to commend and thank the visionaries who decided—in 1992—that it was time for the EMS profession to have a dedicated ceremony to honor those lost in the line of duty performing EMS duties. This ceremony allows us the opportunity to reflect on the lives and contributions of your loved ones and induct them into a unique and honored place in EMS.
I also want to commend the dozens of EMS providers, friends, co-workers and family members who trained and sacrificed their time, budgets and bodies—to bike a beautiful but gruelling course to recognize, honor and bring national attention to the work and sacrifices of those who have lost their lives in the performance of EMS.
And the honor guards that traveled to Colorado Springs to pay homage to their fallen brothers and sisters in EMS, showing the love and respect they have for them.
All of the individuals we honor tonight had several things in common:
1. They had all fulfilled their dreams;
2. They were doing work that they loved;
3. They had a host of friends, loved ones and family members who loved their zest for life, dedication to purpose and uncanny sense of humor; and
4. They were all taken from us way too early.
There are two types of family members and friends with us here at this EMS Memorial Service:
1. Those who fully understood their loved ones reasons for being involved in EMS, and
2. Those who respectfully tolerated their loved one’s sometimes incessant involvement in an occupation that is fast, unrelenting, emotional, physically & emotionally challenging, abusive, tiring and dangerous.
I hope that my remarks will help you better understand a little bit more about what drove your loved to EMS, and fuelled their passion for the challenges and risks involved in EMS.
First, you must understand that in EMS, unlike other professions, we are most often called upon at the worst moment in a person, or family member’s life. We work to breathe life back into a non-breathing newborn infant and are also called upon to try to restore life to the old, tired heart of a family’s matriarch or partriarch. We don’t always succeed—but we always try.
There are a multitude of things we learn in the course of our education, job orientations and daily practices. Many are written, but most are acquired through experience—gained over time and through awareness of the consequences and hazards of our profession.
Your loved ones never went to work worrying about the unknown circumstances they would face because they were confident in their training and their ability to overcome complex obstacles.
And they all knew the challenges and risks involved in their profession.
They were each, in their own way, soldiers of emergency medicine involved in a war against death.
They trained for it, developed “battle” plans, and carried out those battle plans—referred to in EMS as SOPs, operational plans and protocols— in an effort to win over their enemy, death.
In a majority of the cases, they scored major victories in their battles, combating the effects of heart disease, strokes and trauma.
They felt exhilaration in their victories, however big or small, because they defeated or held off death.
But, like a soldier, they lived with the knowledge that death will often win, and sometimes they themselves would be its victim.
But, again, it was a part of what they did and knowledge that they lived with every day.
They performed as soldiers of emergency medicine because they felt the calling to saving lives at all costs. They knew that only the elite in medicine, in addition to being well trained and experience, venture into areas and environments that others dare not go.
They knew that that it was extremely dangerous—working on a high-speed interstate highway, traversing through traffic full of inattentive and distracted drivers in the worst of night time and weather conditions and flying and landing in dark and barren locations with limited lighting—and where hazards are hard to see even during daylight conditions.
And they knew that there were patients that, because of their injury, illness, pain, or mental status, could hurt or kill them
But, while conscious of these threat and hazards, your loved ones—the elite of EMS—were “good soldiers” who carried out their jobs to make an impact on death and disability.
And, while fear and death are not well defined in EMS textbooks, your loved ones did know about and possess some fears.
They all feared losing you, their own family members, loved ones, co-workers and friends.
And they knew what death meant for their patients—and their patients’ family members and friends.
But, because of who they were and their passion for their profession, I don’t believe your loved ones spent much time fearing or reflecting on how their own death would truly impact you, because they were confident that you knew they were doing what they loved and would not want to be doing anything else.
They knew you appreciated, or at least accepted, their calling and would somehow be able to eventually understand, accept, and perhaps forgive them for offering their life for the life of another.
You will never be able to reconcile their untimely passing, but I hope you will forever remember their contribution to emergency medical services and their fellow man and feel the love and recognition offered by the National EMS Memorial with this ceremony and their induction and placement on the EMS Tree of Life, which represents an oak tree—a tree that symbolizes great strength.
And please take solice in the fact that all of us here tonight will never forget their sacrifices and all pledge to:
1. Develop safeguards, products and procedures to ensure safe practices,
2. Improve vehicle and equipment designs; and
3. Offer enhanced training for our EMS workforce.
Your loved ones are elite soldiers of emergency medicine who did not give their lives in vain.
They are your heroes. And, rest assured, they will always be our heroes.