There was a cartoon series entitled Pogo that was popular during the Vietnam War. Pogo was a possum that lived in a Georgia swamp. Life in the swamp satirically represented society. One of the most popular quotations that came from the widely read cartoon was the phrase We have met the enemy and he is us. The phrase subsequently became the mantra for Earth Day and reflected the fact that pollution and similar environmental issues are largely the responsibility of humankind. Unfortunately, the same phrase can be easily applied to EMS.
Lately, I have noticed three issues that illustrate how we are our own worst enemy. These three issues affect everybody who is or has been a part of the EMS community in the United States. Now, I don t think anybody is consciously trying to hurt the profession, I believe it is occurring because of generalized apathy or ignorance. In addition, sometimes we place our own interests in front of those of the profession.
First, any profession needs a unified voice to represent the interests of the profession in society as a whole. The American Medical Association (AMA) represents physicians in general while the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) specifically represents the interests of emergency physicians. The strength of a professional organization, such as the AMA or ACEP, lies in the membership. The more members, the more influential the organization.
The organization for EMS is the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT). This organization was founded in 1975, and I was a charter member. While NAEMT has had its ups and downs, it still remains the only unified voice for EMS in the U.S. Furthermore, in recent years, NAEMT has cleaned up their act and have become duly focused on the issues facing the profession. The dues are inexpensive. The organization is sound. Yet, very few EMS people are members. Why do people not join? Unfortunately, some in EMS don t feel they are a part of the EMS community. All of us, whether we work for a private EMS service, fire department, governmental entity, hospital or similar operation are all EMS providers. NAEMT is devoted to protecting the interests of EMS providers regardless of the employer or EMS delivery model. Likewise, many state EMS associations exist yet are also poorly supported by EMS providers. In the U.S., EMS is a local governmental responsibility. Because of this, representation of the profession at the state level is very important — yet almost nonexistent!
If you are not a member of NAEMT and your local EMS association, it is time to join. I joined both NAEMT and the EMS Association of Texas (EMSAT) although, technically, I am not a prehospital provider. Interestingly, I just recently read an email thread about the Johnson & Johnson television ad that supports nursing as a profession. EMS providers were angry that the entire ad showed nurses working in the prehospital setting. I completely understand. They complained like typical keyboard warriors. But that was it. Little did they know that NAEMT had already addressed this ad with Johnson & Johnson. If they were members, they would have known.
Second, EMS is one of the few public service professions without a national memorial that honors our colleagues who have fallen in the line of duty. We, as a profession, have an ethical duty to assure that our fallen brothers and sisters are forever remembered. There has been an EMS Memorial Service each spring in Roanoke, Va. While the need for a memorial and the memorial service are different issues, this is something each of us should be involved in. There is presently an ongoing controversy about where the memorial should be and who should be responsible for it. Different groups come to the table with different ideas and agendas. Instead of dividing the profession we should unite and work together to assure that a bona fide memorial is placed somewhere in this great land where people can come to reflect and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. If we are all on one page, instead of the usually divided image, then we will attain our goal. If we are united, major sponsors will follow and make the national EMS memorial a reality.
Third, there has been a recent interest in preserving our legacy through a National EMS Museum. Many people have put in many thankless hours to get the museum up and running. NAEMT has provided some seed money. But, like everything in EMS, we are again divided. There is a push to have the national EMS museum at the Los Angeles County Fire Museum — not a bad idea. There is also a push to have a pure EMS museum at some location in the country — also not a bad idea. But, like usual, we have two to three entities trying to achieve the same goal that appear to be competing with each other. As well, personality issues now appear to be affecting the National EMS Museum project. We will never get the needed major sponsors for this project unless we put petty personality issues aside, stop bickering and have an organization that is squeaky clean and fiscally transparent. Again, we are our own worst enemy.
It is time for EMS providers to join our professional organizations and speak with a unified voice. Each EMS provider, whether volunteer or career, should join their state EMS organization and NAEMT. They should also belong to organizations that represent their other work interests (e.g., International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, International Association of Flight Paramedics, etc.). The dues are tax-deductible, and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Likewise, EMS organizations must work hard to be totally transparent and solely represent the interests of the membership. NAEMT has done a great job in addressing this problem. The National Association of EMS Educators (NAEMSE) appears to be trying to become more transparent. People will only join an organization if they feel their voice is heard by the officers, the organization does not misuse their dues, and the organization presents an image and voice that totally represents the profession.
So, can the apathy! Quit being EMS keyboard warriors! Join the organizations of the profession that pertain to your work. The future of EMS is dependent upon such actions.