Administration and Leadership, Operations, Training

Clean Floors: A little fun for a serious world

Issue 3 and Volume 35.

Whoever designs residential bathrooms sure doesn’t have to get sick folks out of ’em, Life-Saver.

Ever notice how often you find people slumped against the doors in their bathrooms, so the only way in is through a (kid-size) window? It would be so much easier if those doors opened outward instead of in. But of course, it’s your job to adapt and overcome. I know somebody who found a way to have some fun with those silly doors.

Mario is a probationary firefighter. Of course, one of the consequences of being a probie is you end up with some special responsibilities. Depending on where you work, that can mean kitchen patrol, waxing the reserve equipment, shoveling snow, cleaning the apparatus floor, taking out the trash or maybe policing the restrooms.

In a good department, those duties aren’t excessive; they’re tastefully assigned, and a candidate is still generally treated with respect. A brief probationary period is an opportunity for a new employee to display some natural humility—an essential tool for people who serve others. (Humility, and of course, a sense of humor.)

Mario joined a good department, so his duties aren’t excessive. They are tastefully assigned, and he’s generally treated with respect. People share their knowledge with him, and his daily routine is punctuated with some funny stuff. It seems Mario’s department has recruited and selected a good candidate.

But more than that, it turns out Mario is a good observer. One day after lunch recently, he noticed his company officer heading for the bathroom, carrying a newspaper. Remembering that the bathroom door opened inward, Mario grabbed a small plastic trash container from one of the dorm rooms and filled it about a third of the way up with water. He quietly leaned it against the door, so as soon as the door opened the container would fall inward and spill its contents all over the bathroom floor. Then he assembled an audience.

Sure enough, it worked like a charm. To his credit, the lieutenant smiled as he came up the hallway and quietly asked, “Like to mop that up?”

Of course, the floor needed to be mopped anyway. And Mario may have to bring in some pie for his shift when they read this. But knowing him, he’ll probably have some fun doing that as well.

Humor’s a good thing in EMS, and in life. Consider the beauty of the human eye, which its Creator filled with—yup— two kinds of humor: aqueous and vitreous. We know humor has positive effects on all human interaction. Evidently a lot of people have given it some serious thought: An Internet search on the word “eye” produces more than 600 million hits.

Even the most popular installments of this little column have been about gags, like pouring Rice Krispies into the air conditioner vents in somebody’s car and leaving the blower switch set on high. Replacing somebody’s corn flakes with little dead leaves. Re-plumbing the water closet in the bathroom with oxygen tubing and an IV catheter, so it squirts whoever flushes the thing. Or covering all of the horizontal surfaces in your chief’s office with Styrofoam cups, filled to the brim with water.

Have you ever had to work with a crew or a partner who had no sense of humor at all? Makes a shift last forever, doesn’t it?

Fixing other people’s emergencies is serious business, and, overall, you have to take it seriously. But try not to take yourself too seriously. You’ll know if you do, because people will avoid you, prompt you, or—as you were about to suggest—laugh at you! Even your own body and mind will respond with manifestations like sleeplessness on and off duty, digestive anomalies, and eventually more serious disorders like ulcers or hypertension.

We don’t do this for the money, unless we’re not very smart. So, it’s good to be part of an agency where people have fun. That doesn’t make them goofy or unsafe, it doesn’t have to damage anything or hurt anybody’s feelings, and it doesn’t have to interfere with people’s readiness to handle a response. But in case you haven’t noticed, when this work is easy, it’s really easy. When it’s hard, it’s really hard. Humor is a tool we all use to keep that hard part in balance.

You just don’t last very long without it. JEMS

Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Brighton, Colo., firefighter Mario Molinaro, for his idea and for the humility he will need in the months following publication of this article. Thom Dick has been involved in EMS for 39 years, 23 of them as a full-time EMT and paramedic in San Diego County. He’s currently the quality care coordinator for Platte Valley Ambulance, a hospital-based 9-1-1 system in Brighton, Colo. Contact him at [email protected] .