Equipment & Gear, Major Incidents, Operations, Patient Care, Training

The Bare Necessities of EMS

Issue 11 and Volume 38.

When packing for vacation, I always lay out all the items I think I’ll need. Clothing, money, sunglasses, suntan lotion, shampoo, lip balm, directions, GPS, tickets and many other things. Then I put back half of my clothes and double the amount of money. It’s a combination that has served me well over the years.

This got me thinking—what do EMS professionals take on their ambulances every day? Do you have a check list? Are you prepared for anything and everything the day will throw at you? If you’re like most EMS providers, you’ll have items you put into a bag that’s located someplace on your ambulance. If not, you should start a list. Then, use that list to pack your bags so when all is said and done, you’ll be glad you had that one item in your bag when you really needed it.


The first thing I do is check the weather. Will it be hot, cold, raining, snowing or windy? Maybe there will be thunderstorms. If you live in some places, these could happen all in one day. Proper outerwear is most likely the most important gear you should have with you. Raincoats, hats, gloves, jackets and clean, dry boots could be placed into an airtight bag and left in an outside compartment of the ambulance, or in your locker at your station. There’s nothing worse than wet clothing, so staying dry is very important in making you a happy provider.

Uniform: How about your uniform? Do you have a clean shirt, pants, under clothing, socks and boots? Our uniforms are always being soiled, either by our eating habits (we all eat to fast) or by the nature of the job. No matter how careful you are, at some point you’ll need to change your uniform after a call.

Keeping a clean uniform near you should be part of your SOP’s. Having a clean, pressed uniform ready at any given moment not only will give you peace of mind, but will lift your spirits after that nasty call.

I also recommend having a clean Clorox pen with you at all times. Dirt, food and many little splashes can be easily cleaned with a quick laundry detergent pen and a paper towel.

Protection: Protective gear such as a fire coat, fire pants, a shielded helmet and boots for rescue operations can also be used for foul weather. Having your rescue/fire gear handy so you can quickly get dressed when needed should also be part of your daily check list. Protecting yourself from cuts, abrasions, heat, cold, splashes, chemicals and many other unforeseen dangers should be part of your daily uniform. Your gear should be cleaned after it has been dirtied.

Sunglasses: All providers know it’s all about how you look. A good pair of sunglasses not only makes you look cool, but also makes for a better picture when you’re being photographed. UV-rated glasses protect your eyes from damaging sunlight, but also protect you during rescue operations and from body substances splashes. Make sure your sunglasses are shatter proof, fit properly and have UV protection.

EMS Tools

We all have things that we must have with us on every call. Flashlights, watch, glove holder, pens, paper, stethoscopes, scissors, knife, utility tool and a host of other items that either fit in our pockets or on our belts.

Watch: You can’t be in the EMS arena if you don’t wear a watch with a second-hand on it. On the first day of your first responder, EMT or paramedic class, your instructor should insist you wear a watch that counts seconds. You can buy watches from $10 to thousands of dollars, but you must have a watch.

Stethoscope: The next most important personal item is a personal stethoscope. Not only is your stethoscope a tool you’ll use on every call, it also identifies you as a medical professional. Most providers wear a uniform, and like most emergency providers, the only thing that immediately identifies you as a medical professional is that stethoscope hanging around your neck. Spending a few extra dollars for a good stethoscope will not only help you hear blood pressures and breath sounds, but no one else will be putting the ear pieces into their ears.

Flashlight: It really doesn’t matter if you work the day shift or the night shift, you can always find yourself in a dark place. Whether you use a rechargeable flashlight or one that requires replacement batteries, we all forget about having an extra light bulb until you need your flashlight in a dark room. Make sure your flashlight is well-charged and you have your charger available. Spare batteries can be easily stored in a pocket in your ready bag, and finding a new lightbulb before you need it is highly recommended. LED flashlights use less power and are brighter. Small lightweight flashlights are always handy to have when you find yourself in a dark room.

Gloves: You can never, and I mean never, have enough gloves. Extra gloves on your belt pouch is essential not only for you, but for others. Many times a police officer or firefighter will tear or forget to put on gloves, and having that spare pair or three will protect all of you.

Shears: Fans of NCIS will remember Rule No. 9: Always have a knife. I prefer, however: always have trauma shears. Trauma shears will cut just about anything people wear—clothing, belts, jackets and many other assorted items. Trauma shears can fit tucked into the small of your back, in a back pocket or in a belt holder. Don’t leave home without them, or at least a similar utility tool. They’re one of the tools that you may never use, but when you need it, you wish you had one.

Long-term Events

Now that we’ve covered the day-to-day personal equipment you should have with you, let’s talk about what you should have on a long-term standby or deployment when you will be away for either hours, days or weeks long.

Strike teams prepare for events, but do you prepare for long-term deployments? After my company City of Bethlehem (Pa.) EMS sent four medics to New Orleans to help during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, we found we needed a better checklist of items for when we get deployed—with items like cell phone chargers, water, suntan lotion, mosquito repellant, additional underclothing, soap, toilet paper in ZipLock bags, toothpaste, deodorant, clean towels, personal medication and, most importantly, baby wipes. These have many uses from a quick clean-up to maintaining personal hygiene. Disasters happen every day, and you must be able to take care of yourself before you care for others.

Cell phones: We cannot live without our mobile devices or cell phones. Even during natural disasters, the need to stay connected to your family, friends and employers is essential. Although you may not have cell service, when you do get a signal, someone will want to know you’re OK. Having either a 12-volt, car-lighter charger or a 120 volt that you can charge in your ambulance is very important in this day and age.

Personal hygiene: After the second day of deployment, you’ll quickly realize how much you desire sunscreen, mosquito repellant, toothpaste, soap and clean towels. Feeling clean and refreshed, even if just a little, will make your deployment more bearable.

Medication: When you’re at home, do you look at your daily medication? Do you reorder your meds when you’re down to the two-week limit? What if you need to leave for deployment tomorrow? Do you have enough personal medication to last for your standby or deployment? Does your medication need refrigeration? Do you have a 12-volt cooler? Ice and cold storage could be a luxury during a crisis.

Water: We never think about bottled water until we have no clean water to drink. A case of bottled water can last a crew of two for a couple of days, but I always save the empty bottles to fill in case I find a supply of clean water.


We’re so focused on taking care of others that we forget about ourselves. To be a good EMS provider, you must think about yourself first. Make a list, check it twice, and check it often. Make sure it’s either portable or can be stored in your ambulance or station locker. A “go bag” you can quickly grab should be close by. You may never be prepared for everything, but being prepared to take care of you is highly recommended.

Remember the first two rules of EMS: “scene safety” and “BSI.” As my Eagle Scout training tells me, be prepared! A bag of extra personal equipment with you at all times can make you a happy EMS provider.