EMS: All Grown Up

June 25th, 2010 Comments

Wellington WestpacTrust Rescue Helicopter In ActionIt wasn’t until the 1960s that people began to realize that we needed to provide better emergency care on the streets of our cities. It wasn’t enough to simply send a driver, in an ambulance, to go get people and bring them back to the hospital or morgue. While some of the (mostly) men who drove ambulances, were pretty good at taking care of people, they simply didn’t have the training or skills to provide advanced life support medical care.

It was during the tumultuous times of the late 60s and early 70s that the paramedic program was birthed. The first, out of hospital, cardiac arrest save was performed by Buck Ambulance “cardiac technicians” in 1969. It was another four years before the actual paramedic program began to take shape. In the world of emergency services, it was an exciting time. I ran my first EMS call in 1974, got my EMT-Basic certification in 1978, and became certified as a paramedic five years later in 1983.

For many people, they have never lived in a world without seatbelts, airbags, and paramedics. If you’re younger than 40, you may not have known that ambulances haven’t always been staffed by skilled medical professionals. You may not know that ambulances didn’t always carry an array of 35+ medications, cardiac monitor/defibrillators, and advanced airway tools. You may not know that the death toll on America’s highways, from traumatic accidents, and off our highways, from cardiac arrest, has been greatly suppressed. Due to safer cars and highways, better hospital care, healthier living, and paramedic level care, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved.Critical Care Transport Unit

During the last couple of weeks, as I’ve gone through NEO (New Employee Orientation) and then entered the FTEP (Field Training & Evaluation Program), I’ve had a great overview of the current EMS system in the Portland Metro area. This is where paramedic level care was born, and now, 40+ years later, I”m feeling pretty proud of my colleagues – those that have nurtured and raised this baby. It’s all grown up!

I’ve heard some question the need for two paramedics on every ambulance, and I was disappointed that some counties in the area have backed away from that standard. Some have questioned certain policies, procedures, and system practices – but as one who was trained in the pioneer/cowboy days of EMS, then worked in management and training, I have a bit more of a perspective – I see the bigger picture. The EMS system in Portland has matured in a way many of us only hoped it would, back in the day. I’d like to buy dinner for all of those who helped shape the EMS system and helped it become what it is today!

Sure, there’s room for improvement, and many will continue to guide and steer the forward momentum of today’s emergency medical services system. In fact, many great patient care practices were passed on by the ambulance drivers of yore, and we’ve added to that process. I’ve actually been quite impressed at how some of the ambulance driver practices have been retained. I’m also quite impressed by the advances in the medical care our paramedics provide. All paramedics in Oregon now have at least a two-year college degree, and many have four-year and advanced graduate education.

I’m very impressed by the caliber of people working in the field.”

Portland Fire & Rescue Station 13 Collecting ToysMore than that, I’m very impressed by the caliber of people working in the field. Seriously, the caliber of people who went through NEO with me are outstanding. There were professional athletes, writers, artists, musicians, and experienced medics. I felt honored to be amongst them. And now, after working two days in the field, I’ve been quite impressed by the other paramedics, firefighters, and police officers I’ve encountered. I see a blend of well-educated, compassionate, professionals, who provide excellent service, quality care, and desire to cooperatively serve our community. It is awesome to see!

Yep! Our baby is all grown up – we should be proud! Paramedics, EMTs, firefighters, politicians, physicians and other allied healthcare professionals, EMS instructors, IT personnel, and administrators have all played a part in this. We’ve learned from our past, adapted to the challenges, fixed our mistakes, and pursued the vision of what could be. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that change is bad. The change I’ve seen, after being gone for 15 years, is awesome!

I’m humbled to be a part of such an awesome team!

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