At the Eagles Conference being held this week in Dallas, a friend of mine who was at the recent JEMS EMS Today Conference asked me about my keynote talk about pride and professionalism in what we do in public safety.

We chatted for a long time, and I told him that I wanted the audience to feel the great pride I had in our profession—but also I wanted the audience to recognize our many shortcomings as a result of being somewhat nearsighted as young EMS pioneers.

We were so worried about perfecting our new clinical skills and focused primarily on the clinical tasks and obstacles that were immediately ahead of us, that we failed to develop an awareness of the cost and complexity of our new profession.

We failed to educate and orient the public and, worse yet, the elected officials or others who should have stepped up and paid us at a level deserving of our new medical specialty.

As a result, we were assimilated into a subcategory of either the “fire” or “ambulance” service, and we never established an identity to define our profession. We’ve been climbing and clawing to be recognized for our true role and clinical capabilities ever since.

We have to keep our eyes—and minds—focused ahead of us if we are to succeed, particularly with the opportunities offered to us by CMS recently allowing us to treat and release, as well as transport to alternative facilities. 

We have to prepare to master new telemedicine and operational methods to stay alive—to “re-invent” our roles and thrive. 

Now is the time to right our wrongs and establish a professional mindset, or “tradition,” that both the public and medical community recognizes.

Trained to Be the Best … and Ready for Anything

My son Joe is a California Highway Patrol (CHP) motor officer, a position steeped in tradition. When my son Joe was selected to go to CHP “Motor school,” he needed to practice riding and maneuvering a motorcycle for months before he went to the academy, because only a select few pass and  become “CHiP” motors.

So my wife Betsy and I bought Joe a used BMW police motorcycle that he used every day to practice cone maneuvers, until he “became one with” the bike.

He became so used to the feel and function of the motorcycle that was able to always look well ahead of the bike, allowing for his training and instincts to immediately kick in if he had to stop or swerve suddenly.

He also learned to maneuver around obstacles and debris in the road, as well as how to pursue someone at speeds exceeding 110 miles an hour.

These were all scary thoughts for Betsy and I, so we felt the purchase of a practice bike was worth every penny.

Achieving “CHiP” motor status was one of the most challenging things that I ever watched Joe do, but he did it because of his desire and determination to be the best in his chosen profession.

That’s what I feel we all need to do—no matter what public safety path we choose to take.

Bowline on a Bight with a Half Hitch

When I was among the few early applicants for paramedic training, I wanted to be the best.

Was I? Perhaps not; but I sure tried like hell to be.

Was I the best firefighter or rescue technician in my Fire Department? Perhaps not, but I took every class I could, and my roommates and I even had pieces of rope throughout our house so we could stop and tie a bowline on a bight with a half-hitch added so eventually we could tie one anywhere, any time and any place—even in the dark.

When your life, or the life of a patient is on the line, you have to be mentally and technically ready.

Thirty years into my career, while serving as the Director of Operations for Cetronia Ambulance in Pennsylvania, I responded to assist a crew with the patient having a heart attack on a roof that he was installing on a two-story structure.

I never was one to love heights, but my training kicked in because the crew that was on scene was deathly afraid of going up on the roof to care for the stricken man.

Unfortunately, they were never trained at their organization to climb ladders, tie knots, lash a person securely into a Stokes basket on a roof, or use pulleys and appliances to lower the basket to the ground.

But I was, so I had to mentally and physically perform the tasks I was trained to do, even though my training was decades earlier.

I remember the frightening feeling as I climbed the Whitehall Fire Department (WFD) ladder and secured the patient and myself on the roof.

I don’t remember securing the patient in the Stokes basket with webbing after eradicating his multifocal PVCs 65 feet in the air, or the rescue and removal of the patient from the roof in that wire basket.

Afterwards, the WFD ladder captain came up and acknowledged my “beautifully tied bowline on a bight with a half hitch” on the upper end of the Stokes basket.

My training had kicked in and, despite my fear of heights, I was able to perform those complex, non-traditional tasks.

That’s the mindset I acquired from my father, mentors and colleagues, and have passed on to my two high-achieving sons.

It’s also the mindset that I hope I’ve passed on to the students I’ve taught throughout my EMS, fire and rescue career.

At my age and current weight, I know I couldn’t carry that Stokes basket and patient off a roof; but I would be willing to bet that I could tie that knot again if I had to.

Parting Thoughts

Like my son Joe’s motor training, you never know when you’ll encounter an obstacle in your path that you have to be ready to see, react, and overcome.

It’s important to master all aspects of your career, and to practice your skills under all conditions—particularly in the dark. You never know when, where, or under what condition you’ll be called on to perform them.


See how a “CHiP” attains perfection, maintains an important, established tradition, and becomes one with the tools and techniques of his professions.