Happy birthday Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services
I left a little earlier for work Sunday morning than I normally would so I would be sure to find Station 6, located on the north side of Indianapolis. As a part timer, I’ve worked at most of the stations in town, but I’d never been to that station. That’s because, up until the morning of Dec. 26, 2010, Station 6 belonged to another service. Let me explain.
Beginning in 1887, Wishard Hospital—then City Hospital of Indianapolis—was among the first hospitals in the country to transport sick and injured patients. In 1943, it was the first hospital to use two-way radios to coordinate ambulance dispatch. City Hospital was renamed Indianapolis General Hospital in 1947, and Wishard Memorial Hospital, after its second superintendent, Dr. William Niles Wishard, in 1975. Wishard is operated by the municipal Health and Hospital Corporation. Its 25 ambulances provided 9-1-1 response to all areas of Indianapolis not served by township fire departments. Until recently, that is.
On Jan. 1, 2007, in a major consolidation of safety services, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department law enforcement division and the Indianapolis Police Department merged, forming the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD). The Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) has been absorbing municipal and township fire departments over the past decade or so. As part of that process, it established an EMS division staffed by civilian paramedics to serve those newly incorporated areas.
Then, six months ago, it was announced that Wishard EMS and IFD EMS were to merge. That merger would include the EMS function of two additional independent fire departments, and all of this was to happen by Jan. 1, 2011. The first phase, the merging of IFD EMS and Wishard EMS, happened Sunday, Dec. 26. The second phase, the incorporation of the two new fire department EMS divisions, occurred Jan. 1. And the new entity, to serve most of the 890,000 citizens of Marion County—there are still EMS services in three independent township fire departments in the county—is Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services.
As you can imagine, this merger, and the pace at which it occurred, has stirred controversy, confusion and skepticism. I have no death wish, nor do I wish to see my “career dissipation light” flashing in high gear in the corner of my eye, and therefore I will make no comment on anything of substance regarding the merger, except to say, I am ecstatic.
And the reason I’m ecstatic is simple.
EMS is the bastard stepchild of public safety. The Johnny-come-lately. The poor cousin. There isn’t an EMT in the country who would disagree. The only question is, how do we change our status? I can think of only two ways:
1. Become a full and equal component of a fire department that recognizes that EMS comprises more than 80% of all calls and values it accordingly.
2. Become a separate-but-equal third service.
Both solutions have their advantages, and both can work. Indianapolis has chosen option two, and that makes me especially happy, because I think EMS has special requirements that can best be served as a third service.
All three municipal services—IMPD, IFD and Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services (IEMS)—are now divisions of the City of Indianapolis Department of Public Safety. And all three are represented by unions, IEMS members having voted to be represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters. Now, whatever you may think about how unions have affected American society, the fact of the matter is that if the other guy’s got one, you gotta have one too, but only if you have any desire for parity—in pay, budgets, vehicles, retirement and respect.
So I arrived at IFD Station 6 a little before 7:00 a.m. on Sunday. I had to ring the buzzer because I hadn’t been given the door code. My uniform polo shirt had the new IEMS logo, but, due to a vendor backorder, my sweatshirt was blank. The ambulance still said IFD, and I had to introduce myself to the crew going off duty and my partner, because I was the first fill-in from the “other side.”
Luckily, dispatch has been integrated countywide for a long time, and we all use the same radios and computers. We also have countywide protocols. So, operationally, very little is different. There were a few glitches the first day—some people couldn’t clock in, some shifts didn’t get filled, some folks couldn’t log on to their mobile data terminals, but the job’s the job—get a call, get in the truck, drive to the call, treat the patient and schlep to the hospital.
It’s a job I’ve been doing for a quarter century in four states and for a dozen services. For this new service, the 61-year-old woman with sudden onset 8/10 chest pain radiating to her back still got an engine and an ambulance. We still gave her oxygen, an IV, fentanyl, hooked her up to a monitor, ran a 12-lead, ASA and NTG, regardless of the name on the truck or color of the patch.
But for the first time, I’m genuinely optimistic that we will gain the parity, the funding and the respect that this valuable service to our community deserves. So I say happy birthday Indianapolis EMS!
Author’s note: Of course the opinions expressed in this column are my very own and may not reflect the opinions of IEMS or any of the entities mentioned above.