Paramedics are taught not to risk their lives after mass shootings. Rightly so.

2000px-star_of_life2-svgI became a paramedic to provide medical care out of a hospital setting to the sick and injured. I, for the most part, enjoyed my career and I was able to even save a few lives along the way. One of the things I discovered early on in my career was that a large part of being an EMT or paramedic is about making some kind of connection with the patient and/or their family. Sometimes this means holding the hand of the elderly lady who you just picked up off their bathroom floor after she fell and broke her hip. Sometimes this means listening, truly listening, to the young guy who has reached rock bottom and wants to kill himself because he feels that no one cares. And sometimes it means talking to the gang member who just got the everlasting crap beaten out of him over a girl he asked out on a date who, unbeknownst to him, was attached to a member of a rival gang.

I’ve ran many calls like the ones above in the eight years that I have worked in EMS. The last scenario in particular stands out because this guy made it clear that he was not talking to anyone because he was going to get his revenge as soon as he was out of the hospital. He refused to tell the police anything. Once in my ambulance after I completed an assessment and treatment which I could provide, I began to talk to him. At first he wouldn’t even talk to me because, as he put it, “you work with the pigs (his words, not mine).” I pointed out that I was unarmed, didn’t even have a ballistic vest, and that I was not a cop. After a few moments he did begin opening up to me about what happened. I talked to him about letting it go and allowing the cycle of violence to stop with him, how beating the other guy up was not going to solve anything and how at the end of it all he could possibly be dead. Perhaps he listened to me. Perhaps not. I will never know. But one thing is for sure: If I had presented myself as an authority figure by acting like “Billy B.A.” like so many in EMS do, I may not have had the opportunity to reach out to this kid.

From that experience alone, I make a case for why EMS providers should not be armed or otherwise regularly take on the role of a combat medic. We are not authority figures contrary to what many of us think. Those of us working the streets for Someplace County EMS are not combat medics in need of tactical gear. When we work for AMR as contractors for a hospital or nursing home we have no need for a duty belt with a side arm, extra ammo, and cuffs. Certainly, a SWAT medic does need these things from time to time but for the 99% of us who will never attend an active swat raid, we simply do not need those things.

Presenting ourselves as no different than the police serves no real purpose, gives people more reasons to distrust us, and paints and even bigger bull’s eye on our backs than are already there.

A former medic turned writer for the CBS show “Code Black” (I will reserve my opinion on this show except to say that I’ve watched one episode and don’t plan to watch another) thinks differently. The Washington Post published an opinion piece written by Kevin Hazzard where he lays out a ridiculous case for EMS providers regularly being placed in harm’s way. In case you want to go ahead and know how I feel, Mr. Hazzard is way off base and is advocating for things which only work in Hollywood shows and movies.

I will respond directly to some of Mr. Hazzard’s statements.

I was a paramedic for nearly 10 years. In that time, my job certainly put me in danger’s way; like many of my co-workers, I believed that saving a patient’s life was worth losing my own.

Nonsense. I know not one EMS provider, not a single one (including and especially myself), who would die for a patient. Perhaps Mr. Hazzard didn’t care about going home at the end of the shift but the rest of us do. The reasons for one going into EMS are varied but I can assure you that dying for a patient is not on the list or reasons for the vast majority. Perhaps Mr. Hazzard needs to remember the part in EMT class where one is taught that if the provider is hurt, they are no good to anyone. When this situation occurs, further strain is put on the system by forcing someone else to care for the patient and for the injured EMS worker because they felt the need to play GI Joe.

Mr. Hazzard, if you’re indeed interested in risking your life in such manners, the military are always recruiting medics.

In many cases, people died while waiting for help that was just outside the door. Patients treated within 60 minutes of an injury — the “golden hour,” in emergency-medicine parlance — have the best chance of survival.

This is barely worthy of a response, as the notion of the so-called “Golden Hour” has been debunked again and again by this thing that so many EMS providers seem afraid of called science. This statement was never based on anything other than some surgeon’s slick marketing phrase for a tack-on certification. If someone is going to bleed out from traumatic injuries, I can assure you that it will likely happen in much less time than the “golden hour.”

Imagine if paramedics had entered the Pulse nightclub and started treating patients immediately. Imagine medics in flak jackets and helmets, surrounded by police assault rifles, setting about the critical work of saving lives right there on the dance floor. Would more people have survived if EMS had been able to treat patients sooner? The answer is almost certainly yes.

Any EMT or medic with any kind of knowledge and experience (and any other person with knowledge of traumatic injuries) knows this simply is not true. An uncomfortable fact: When one sustains multiple significant injuries from a high-powered assault riffle, they likely will die. Again, the notion of a “golden hour” is hogwash. Besides, what good does sending EMS providers into an active shooting scene do Shooting victims can be somewhat stabilized by EMS but, at the end of the day, they need a surgeon (and sometimes even that isn’t enough). Last time I checked, a thoracotomy was not in my scope of practice and I doubt it is in any other medic’s either.

If I have not made it obvious enough, I could not disagree with Mr. Hazzard any more if I had to. He’s wrong, ignorant, and needs to understand that such notions are dangerous. The image of a medic arriving at an active shooting scene and, without regard to himself or his family, running in to drag a victim out makes for a good TV show but in practice it’s not quite that simple and not worth the risk to the provider’s safety.

I believe Mr. Hazzard is getting Hollywood and the real world mixed up.

Take my advice, sir: Stick to Hollywood. Your fantasies should only exist there.

(Some edits made after publication for clarity and correction of typos)

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