Administration and Leadership, Columns, Documentation & Patient Care Reporting

Capture Your EMS History for Future Generations

I recently came across some old pictures from one of the first ambulance services I started working for as a paramedic. I showed them to some people I used to work with, and we had a great proverbial walk down memory lane. That talk reminded me that, in many cases, we take for granted the history of the EMS organizations we work or have worked for in the past.

When you began working at a specific agency will determine your role in the history of the organization. For those of you who began working more than 30 years ago and have stayed with only one organization, you have a rich understanding of the early beginnings and extensive knowledge of the events that shaped the organization into what it is today. But what will happen when you leave? In organizations with long-time members who have retired or, in some cases passed away, who holds the intuitional memory for the future?

Like tracking and writing a family history book, the sooner you begin to note and trace personnel and significant events the easier it will be to add to the organization’s history each year. To help get you started here are some of my recommendations:

The Historian

Whether an official or unofficial position, having a historian is important to track the people and events of your organization. Besides having a central gathering place for all historical data, this person plays an important role in sharing past events and personnel histories with new employees. Doing so will help illustrate to newcomers their place in the history of the organization.

The Timeline

Start your timeline with the first record that note when the ambulance service was initiated. Gather any and all official records that demonstrate when your agency began service in the community. Other records, such as land or first ambulance purchases, should be included.

The People

Most people are interested in knowing and looking at the employees that worked for the organization over the years. Who was the first administrator or chief EMS officer? Who were the first group of employees or volunteers? Can you obtain pictures of the group of personnel who worked on the first day of service?

Speaking of employees, does your organization have a complete and comprehensive list of employees for each year the agency has operated? If not, start with the present and begin to work your way back to the first year. Payroll records or even patient care reports are great sources for either employee names or license numbers.

Many times, employees have old pictures of when they started working for the agency, and you can scan or copy them to include in the history book. If your agency has an official photographer, they will be able to provide you with not only shots of scenes but also of the personnel working on those scenes.

Newspaper articles are another source of records for your organizational history. If your organization hasn’t collected them over the years, ask coworkers if anyone has kept their own scrapbook. You may also be able to obtain copies of old articles from the local newspaper.

Does your organization have any traditions or ceremonies that occur each year? Do you explain to new employees why these events occur? For instance, if your agency had an employee killed in the line of duty, do you hold some kind of ceremony or event to honor their memory and demonstrate to their family and friends the importance their life made in the community?

I’m not sure the future generations of emergency responders will care as much about the past as those of us who grew up in the EMS field over the past 30 years. They may not even take the time to research the people or events that created the world they live and work in. But my hope is that we begin collecting our shared history to honor those employees who contributed and sacrificed to make their communities safer and better.