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Does Firefighter and Paramedic Go Together?

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If you ask a little boy what he wants to be when he grows up if it’s not a professional athlete or astronaut, there is a good chance he will say he wants to be a fireman.  I guess it’s the shiny trucks, blowing the siren and wearing the cool helmet that appeals to kids.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a kid say they want to be a paramedic when they grow up.  But today, if you want the fireman part, in many places you also need to be a paramedic.

A lot of old time fireman don’t want anything to do with EMS.  When they got hired, there might not have even been an ambulance in the station.  Some of these old timers have a real hard time dealing with EMS, blood and vomit make them ill.  Not only do they not like that type of work, it was added to the job they agreed to and there isn’t much extra pay to go with the extra work.  Some people will say we took over EMS to justify our existence, fire calls were going down and we needed to do something or we would be out of a job.

No matter what you think of EMS, it is now a part of a firefighter’s job.  In many departments you can’t even test for a firefighter position without a paramedic certification.  One of the reasons departments require certification is money.  Paying firefighters to go to school and for all the hours needed for certification adds up to a lot of money. It was always a good idea to take a couple fire science classes to give yourself an edge, but now you need to invest as much as a full year to get your paramedic certification.  Along with the classroom time and clinical time, you also need to spend a lot of time on the ambulance before you receive your certification.

The cleanliness of paramedic work is quite different due to the clean environment that is needed when paramedics are treating a sick or injured person.  That is one reason the two jobs don’t go together.  Maintaining a paramedic certification takes a lot of time.  Adding paramedic continuing education to the rest of the training requirements for firefighters fills the schedule quickly.

Fire stations are located so we can arrive in all areas of our districts within minutes.  For a serious illness or injury, being able to arrive quickly is critical.  Being able to bring that emergency room service to residents in minutes is a great reason to combine fire and EMS.  We can have two paramedics on the ambulance and assist that crew with two or three more paramedics responding on accompanying fire apparatus.

It doesn’t seem like two jobs with such different responsibilities could fit together.  A cigar smoking firefighter could not work in the emergency room, so how can that same person provide the service of the emergency room in your house?  Some firefighters prefer EMS over going into a burning building, and others like to opportunity to switch between the two.  These jobs don’t have much in common but over time they have grown together, and I don’t see them ever moving apart.

By John Morse

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