Life ain’t easy for a trained observer.
Ever noticed how that works, Life-Saver? You can’t help wondering about stuff the average person would likely never even notice. Like the guy sitting in your favorite coffee shop an hour before dawn with a pair of sunglasses on his head. Or a lady in a late-model pick up, who’s about to make a right turn onto a high-speed country roadway from a side street while chatting at a stop sign with a neighbor in another vehicle. Normally, she wouldn’t have caught your attention, but the lady in the truck has her arm around a smiling, shirtless 2-year-old, who looks like he’s standing on her lap. The child is waving its arms through the driver’s open window.
Now, coming into your little town, you’re stopped at an intersection behind a local, big-city medic unit. It occupies most of your forward field of vision, so you can’t help but notice its rear-facing features: dark, dusty glass; water streaks traversing the signage; scratches on the top corners of the box, and a broken lens on an amber flasher. Its three-roof antennas are all pointing in different directions, and its ragged-looking dock bumper is surrounded by leaden-looking diamond plate that hasn’t had any lovin’ in years. Even the edges of the agency’s logo are beginning to curl away from the dull white finish on the box.
The whole ambulance appears whipped. But the bumper in particular looks like it’s been through a war. There’s one dent that could’ve been inflicted by one of those jumping power poles. Another one might have stopped a Buick at a slow early Alzheimer’s ramming speed. And at least half a dozen smaller ones are more likely reminders of backing incidents. Steel pipe parking barriers, maybe, with missing paint flecks. Or twisted shopping carts with misaligned wheels. This agency clearly doesn’t use backers, and they don’t seem too concerned about the consequences of that omission.
Tell you what: I think when an ambulance goes in to be serviced, its mechanics and cosmetics need to be equally addressed. Chances are the public doesn’t know diddly about physiology or pharmacology. But they base important inferences on what they see. And what do they see?
Imagine you know nothing at all about EMS. You wouldn’t know the difference between an inotrope and a heliotrope. But you’re sitting in your Corolla at an intersection next to a medic unit, waiting for a signal. That would put you at eye level with everything below the vehicle’s beltline, at a distance of just a few feet. So you have nothing better to do than inspect the thing.
What do you see? You see the overall mass of the ambulance, certainly. More particularly, you see fender skirts, rub rails, the edges of the exterior compartment doors, the signage, the wheel covers, the lighting and the bumpers. If you happen to be following the vehicle instead of riding alongside it, that rear bumper’s right there in front of you. You can’t miss it.
What do you think? If what you can see is immaculate, then it pretty much invites your attention. It’ll be a small leap to surmise the crew is composed of professionals who know and care about what they’re doing. (Same goes for their leaders, actually.) These are people who pay attention to details, starting with the features of their own equipment. On the other hand, if the whole ambulance looks dirty, thrashed and neglected, that would also command your attention. You might assess its occupants and their bosses as, well ... not so professional. They obviously don’t respect their logo or their equipment. Their scratched, bent, scummy wheel covers, their misaligned, dingy trim, and their tortured old bumper are testimonials to their lack of concern about all kinds of other stuff. Like dosages, maybe, or the control of icky substances.
I know that many of us serve people willingly—even joyfully, without conditions or expectations. But as long as EMS has been a dream, we’ve lamented their lack of respect or appreciation for what we do every day. I think we can do something about that. I think we can make it impossible for them, whenever they encounter us, to see us as anything but professionals.
Maybe the cosmetics and cleanliness of our vehicles are way more important than we think they are. And maybe that begins and ends with our rear bumpers. JEMS
This article originally appeared in January 2012 JEMS as “Bumpers: Is your equipment talking smack about you?”