Administration and Leadership

A Pledge: Setting a Course Toward Making a Difference in EMS

Have you ever made a pledge? As a school teacher, I made a pledge each morning when I said the Pledge of Allegiance with each class. There are other pledges I have made. A pledge to pay my mortgage, a pledge to be faithful to my wife, a pledge to defend my country when I was sworn into the Navy, and a pledge to a friend to pray for him as he fought an illness.

No doubt, you have made similar pledges throughout your life. In fact, so many pledges seem to water down our thoughts about the seriousness of our pledges.

Each of my classes over the years has stood at attention outside in ranks, saluted the flag of the United States flying over our training tower and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. During one of these times, which we refer to as “colors,” I began to wonder whether an additional pledge should be used: a pledge for the conduct and professionalism as an emergency responder. Not just a person who’s good in their job, but also good in their community, good in their friendships, good in their family and, most importantly, good in their own skin. I developed this pledge to help nurture the growth of my students. This essay explains my thoughts and rationale.

I pledge allegiance to myself and who I want to become.

And to my class and my profession for which they stand.

My role; to learn and encourage,

To protect the community,

And to secure hope in eyes that see me.

I Pledge Allegiance to Myself

It starts here with a pledge. Regardless of our age, education or position in life, our integrity defines us. EMS responders as well as all emergency responders must rapidly gain unwavering trust of those with whom they come in contact. At this moment in time, can you promise that you’ve done all you can to be whom you claim to be?

In a previous position, I was assigned the task of teaching new residents proper intubation techniques. Most of the time it was a review for what they’d already learned along with some time on the intubation manikin; maybe a total of 60–90 minutes. One resident was especially engaged in asking about landmarks, complications and various techniques. When it came time for the manikin practice he appeared to be proficient. Nevertheless, he practiced on the various mannequins for at least three additional hours. Although those around him believed him to be all he could possibly be, he knew he could be better and more prepared to use his skills on a trusting patient. That is integrity.

And Who I Want to Become

Over the past several years I have taught EMT classes to high school students. We spend considerable time and effort on various avenues someone in the emergency services could pursue. Many of my students have long-term goals that go beyond being an EMT—becoming an EMT is but a step in their path to paramedic, nurse or physician. Some want to become leaders or mentors.

Regardless of where they stand in their path, they must take good care of who they will be in the future. Dreams and hopes for the future are built on plans and work today. So, what plans and works are needed today to secure tomorrow’s dreams and hopes? I often tell my students to visualize who and what they want to be in five years … 10 years … 20 years. I tell them they not only are responsible for their own actions today, but they are also responsible to care for the same person they are visualizing.

And To My Class & My Profession for Which They Stand

The strength of a fire department, EMS or law enforcement organization is not in its talented and strong individuals, but rather the synergy of talented and strong individuals. The classroom is a good place for this to start. I want my students to be proud of their class and I make every attempt to allow them that. I remind them that it’s no mistake they’re on this earth. They have a purpose and are fully capable to fulfill that purpose.

I tell them that I believe in them. I tell them when they express doubt in a task or a situation not to worry. I have plenty of confidence; they can use mine for now. It will come!

I do all I can to demonstrate the good characteristics of a professional and of a person. I tell them that if they think and do as I do, they’re okay.

Many of my students come from less-than-stellar family dynamics. They need a role model. If you’re a teacher, a mentor or even a working partner, you make an influence on others. I want people who meet me to walk away encouraged, supported and challenged to be all they can be.

What applies to the classroom applies as well to the workplace. Do you “stand” for others at work? Is the work environment structured so that it “stands” for the individual?

My daughter told us one day that she wanted to become a Marine. At the time, she had a great corporate position with good income. We asked her why she had made this decision. Her reply was that she believed in what our country stood for and wanted to make a difference in the world. Over the next 10 years, there were many times in which she stood for those in her group in demanding situations. Can you take confidence for which your class or your workplace stands? Do you reciprocate?

My Role; To Learn & Encourage

Even with a class of 24 students, I propose to give each person a chance to see and realize their individual importance in their progression to become an emergency responder. While doing thism, I also stress the importance of their role in the learning process. Remembering things isn’t really learning; it’s just storage of information. To truly learn one must remember, cogitate and apply a principle.

In the classroom setting as well as the workplace, one should also make sure those around them also have an opportunity to learn. This might mean helping someone instead of critiquing. It might mean you go out of your way to give more than you get.

I’ve been married for 38 years. I’m often asked how my wife and I have maintained a good relationship for that long. Is it a good 50-50 relationship? My answer is no, it’s not. Regardless of what my wife offers to the relationship, I give 100%. Were you to ask her, the reply would be the same. What you put into your learning or work should never be predicated upon anything but your own personal role.

To Protect the Community

Many of my students may have low self-esteem. They can see nor imagine any further than the end of high school, if that. As their teacher, I feel an obligation to help them discover their importance in the community.

My classes are remote from the actual school, but we participate in activities there. Our students help run the fire drills, do safety inspections for other classrooms and make safety recommendations to the administration. All this prepares them to maintain that mindset as they go into the workplace in a new community.

There’s a plaque at the front of my classroom with a few names of current and former students who have demonstrated their dedication through their actions. This includes CPR, relieving a choking person and other actions taken on their own. They support and protect their community while, at the same time, the plaque supports and recognizes the classroom community.

And to Secure Hope in Eyes that See Me

A common question I ask students following a practical scenario is, “What color eyes did the patient have?” My point is that connection with a patient is often through the eyes. An experienced provider can read so much in the eyes of a person in distress. When 9-1-1 is called, the patient, family and bystanders all look to the provider for hope; for a good resolution to their current crisis.

Many first impressions are based on incorrect assumptions. Although not fair, it’s that with which we are stuck. How’s your appearance? How’s your demeanor? How are your listening skills? How confident are you in your assessment and practical skills? Are you on par with the resident doing intubation skills? All of these things go far in securing the hope in those that see you.

I had a student once from a small village in Africa. He had gained employment with a large company from Europe with a site close to his village. Two years after I trained him, I returned for another training program. When I saw him, I could see the concern in his eyes. He relayed to me that an executive from Europe was visiting the facility and began to choke on food. My student was concerned that maybe he didn’t provide proper care to the executive. Through questioning it became obvious that my student had correctly provided abdominal thrusts and relieved the person from choking. For two years, my student questioned himself whether he could ever help someone else without causing more harm. Just watching his eyes, you could see the burden he had been carrying disappear when he heard from me that he, indeed, saved the man’s life through proper use of his learned skills. I had secured the hope in his eyes.

Daily Reminder

When I initially wrote this pledge my intention was to use it to keep my class focused on their role and actions. But as is often the case, the teacher became the student. I realized I needed this daily reminder so could be more then just a purveyor of information. By applying this pledge to myself, I am becoming closer to becoming the teacher, the mentor, and the leader I envision.