Administration and Leadership, Training

Back in the Jump Seat: The curmudgeon returns & finds ‘youngins’

Issue 2 and Volume 34.

Greetings, friends. It’s been about two years since JEMS was gracious enough to publish my ranting responses to reader mail. No, I didn’t pull the plug and take my retirement check to Aruba (although that doesn’t sound like a bad idea). I just needed some time away, you know? But I’m back and ready to espouse heaping servings of wisdom—or at least give you another way of looking at your problems.

You wouldn’t know it from the outside, but I’m different than before. During my sabbatical, I’ve had the chance to work with some incredible people doing great things in bad conditions. They opened my eyes and taught me stuff I thought I already understood. I lost some dear friends along the way, but I strengthened other bonds. I know I’m a better person for it, but I wish for no one to go through it the same way.

One of the lessons was that a tragedy is a magnifier of character. If you’re self-centered and have poor leadership skills, a crisis will shine a floodlight on those faults. If you’re an effective leader of sound character, a crisis is an opportunity, a chance to show your true mettle. It’s also an opportunity for junior officers to rise up and deliver. Those are the moments that make you proud.

I also got involved in a few issues during the past two years that reinforced to me that the mainstream media is not your friend, but they’re also not your enemy. They’re just doing their job. Nowadays, reporting the news isn’t enough. The news has to be “sold” to viewers in order to compete with the billions of other available stimuli. So, it’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with the media, and we’ll put politicians in the same boat. When your agency is lauded for its charitable work, you love ’em. When your department gets punched in the nose, you hate ’em. The fact is, we need both. Reporters drive the voters. Voters drive the politicians. Politicians drive the money. I’m glad I’m just a medic.

I know I’ve blathered on, and if you’ve made it this far, thanks for listening. I look forward to hearing what’s on your mind. You can expect me to respond frankly, without pulling any punches. And as an act of good faith, I’ll start by answering a fellow old fart.

Dear Sirenhead,
Like you, I’m a dinosaur in this industry. I received my first EMT-B license in 1980. (I’m currently a nursing supervisor, but I’ve maintained my EMT-P all these years.) I recently attended an EMS conference where Randy Mantooth was the featured speaker, and he very eloquently laid out the history of EMS. Judging by the expressions on their faces, a great many in the audience had no idea what the White Paper was or the impact Emergency! had on the public. Some didn’t even recognize the name Jim Page! My dinosaur peers and I try to educate the kids in this industry about our history, but nobody seems to think any of this is important. They just go to paramedic school as a way to get in to the fire service. Am I too out of touch? Should I just pull the pin, retire from EMS and leave it to the kids? —EMS Dinosaur

Dear Dinosaur,
I’ve been a die-hard Washington Redskins fan since my dad took me to RFK stadium as a kid. We used to have an ongoing “discussion” about who was a better cornerback—Pat Fischer or Darrell Green. My dad would pontificate on how Fischer was small and slow, so opponents went after him, and then Fischer almost always came out on top. I’d argue that Green was so fast that opponents would try to avoid him, but they just couldn’t get away from him.

My dad said us “youngins” didn’t respect the game because we didn’t respect its history. I’d shake my head when he got on a roll about the burgundy and gold. Now, my son tells me to get with the times as he regales me with how great Shawn Springs is. The dang kid just doesn’t have respect for the history of the game. Wait a minute, I sound like my old man.

My point is that every generation has its own heroes. Johnny Gage, Roy DeSoto, Jim Page—all my heroes. Our EMS kids will have heroes, too, but they may not be the same as ours. And that’s OK. It’s still our job to teach them about the old days, because one day they will care. Come on, Dinosaur, did you and I really listen to the old timers who taught us out of the Red Cross “green book”? And while you’re sharing stories, ask who their heroes are and figure out how to use that to bond with them.

As for using EMS as a stepping stone, so what? Didn’t I see an RN and CEN behind your name? You got your EMT in 1980 and then became a paramedic and a nurse. So, should you pull the pin, retire from EMS, and leave it to the kids? I think not. It’s your job, no, your opportunity to raise EMS kids. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’ll really stink, but never give up on them. One day, when the chips are down, they’ll rise up and make you proud.