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Friday, March 19, 2010

Appearances Matter

In this day and age of the economic downturn, emergency services everywhere are finding themselves in the surprising position of justifying their expenses and in some cases their very existence. Some folks are so clueless about what we do, they'd chop us to nothing without realizing we're like the last strand of the rope keeping them from falling off a cliff. We know what will happen if the cuts happen, and by the time they figure it out, people will be dead and they'll turn it around and blame us, asking why we didn't warn them, despite all of our attempts to do just that.

Talk about frustrating. Burnout isn't bothering me yet. I'm still physically able to do the job. I don't mind the low pay... heck my volunteer firefighter's salary of $0.00 has more than tripled in less than three months, I'm not complaining! But the sheer blunt stupidity of the people we serve who cannot bother themselves to understand how or why we function, and just assume the sky will never fall..... that is the one thing that has made me seriously consider walking away from The Job more than once. They don't give a damn, so why should I?

I know this isn't news to many of you. Bear with me.

So we get banged out a couple of weeks ago to a very minor medical call. Dispatched as a possible sprained ankle. Seriously? Can I roll my eyes and call you a taxi? It's a lot cheaper than the bone box, and you know, someone might actually need the medic unit while we're tied down with you. No? We gotta go? OK then, because, you know, it's not like we need to limit our spending or anything.

But guys, for cripes sake, if this band-aid ice pack non-emergency call comes in during a drill and we've got twenty guys in the house, you do not need to send six firefighters on the engine to accompany the ambulance. We've got other apparatus in the house, if we get something "real", there's more than enough room to get the manpower on scene.

Seriously, the citizens are screaming about high taxes, and then the caller and all their neighbors observe as a total of eight burly firefighters arrive with an ambulance and a shiny big red truck. Most of them, unsurprisingly, end up standing around doing nothing. What is the signal we're sending?

Yes, you and I and all the other guys at the drill know that the Captain and the Medics are career, and that the five freebie volunteers showing up financially means essentially nothing to the taxpayer burden here, but they're all wearing the same uniform more or less, and the citizens on the street can't tell us apart. Looks like eight salaries showed up for a fluff call, looks like a tremendous waste of resources or overstaffing.... where should we cut? There's plenty of extra firefighters, aren't there?

Folks, the citizens don't get it. You need to spell it out not just in the information you provide, but also how you appear day-to-day in the course of your work.

It isn't enough to do public education, or budget seminars, or newsletters explaining why an engine goes with the medic. Sometimes you just need to use your brain and realize that sometimes it is more important to put the right face on than to let a gaggle of volunteers ride the engine because they can. If your patient turns out to be 400lbs and face-down in a broom closet, sure, call for another unit for manpower, but until then, use common sense. Look busy! Be busy! And if you're justifiably on standby with nothing to do at the House, don't lounge on the station deck in full view of the world.

These are tough times. Engage your brain. Don't make things worse than they need to be by being oblivious to the external perception of how we do our jobs.

As the Happy Medic says.... that is all.

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