EMS: A Classic Role Model for Today's Responders

I love to watch John Wayne movies. To me, nothing epitomizes an American hero more than John Wayne. In the nearly 200 films he made over the course of 50 years, by some accounts, John Wayne became the greatest icon in the all-American movie genre. Wayne played every part from football coach to sailor, but it was his roles in westerns and war movies that defined him as an American folk hero to many. Three of my favorite John Wayne westerns are “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” “The Horse Soldiers” and “Fort Apache.” My favorite Wayne war movies are “They Were Expendable,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “The Green Berets.” In each of those movies, he portrays his rugged masculinity with his distinctive height, voice and walk.

John Wayne died in 1979, just about the time emergency medical services and paramedics were debuting after the TV show “Emergency!” made a tremendous impact proliferating the profession. But what would have happened if John Wayne was much younger and paramedics were as mainstream as they are today? Would John Wayne have accepted a script to play a firefighter/paramedic in a movie? I don’t know about you – but it is something I would like to have seen. I would have loved to see the Duke, with that familiar walk, scroll across the engine house floor on the way to his rig to check his equipment. Or talk to a patient and say, “What’s wrong today, Pilgrim?” How about the Duke getting down on his hands and knees to intubate a patient or going to work on the end of a 1¾-inch line knocking down a room fire!

Another attribute the Duke would have portrayed in the movie would have been honesty. He would be forthcoming with information and he wouldn’t lie to patients about their conditions, talk down to them or talk patients out of going to the hospital. He wouldn’t lie to co-workers, chiefs or others he came into contact with during the course of his shift. The Duke would have been a hard worker. He would have arrived early for his shift so that the off-going crew would not get stuck on a late call. Before he did anything else, he would have checked his equipment and the apparatus to make sure they were all functional and ready to go. Anything that was not working would have been immediately reported or replaced.

The Duke would not have been a slug and would have put out the maximum on each call; nobody watching a movie of Wayne portraying a firefighter/paramedic would have thought of him as a slacker. He would have put out the utmost on each run and would not have shirked from his responsibilities.

If you watch any of the Duke’s movies, such as “Stagecoach,” “True Grit” or “Rio Bravo,” he never took advantage of the weak. Instead, he protected those who couldn’t protect themselves. If you were another firefighter or firefighter/paramedic who was struggling, there is no doubt in our fictitious movie that the Duke would have stepped forward and offered assistance to make the engine house or the team better.

Another quality Wayne had that would have been perfect for playing a firefighter/paramedic would be dignity. In this case, dignity means relying on yourself for your success and abandoning the victim mentality. Instead of relying on others, with dignity he would take his future into his own hands and rely on no one but himself for his success. That dignity would come out in the movie. How many times as a firefighter/paramedic do you find yourself in an extremely challenging situation and you have to reach down deep to pull out some mental or physical strength to accomplish the job?

John Wayne’s tombstone reads “Feo, Fuerte y Formal,” a Mexican epitaph Wayne described as meaning “ugly, strong and dignified.” Wayne was 6-foot-4 and a strong man, but he was not talking about his physical attributes. He was talking about the strength of his character. Firefighter/paramedics are no different in that it takes strength of character to deal with some of the situations we face.

Although I am sorry John Wayne is no longer with us, his role model and the strength of character he portrayed in his movies are examples for all firefighter/paramedics to follow. Wayne would have played an excellent firefighter/paramedic in a movie because of his life lessons on hard work, honesty, dignity, strength and compassion. I am sure at the end of the movie he would tip his helmet, look into the camera at the end of a call and say, “Thanks, partner.”