Becoming a firefighter is not an easy task. Thousands of people lined up to take a test for a fire department that was only going to have a couple of job openings over the life of the list (if even that sometimes). I remember it so clearly. 3,000 people for one job. 5,000 people for 10 jobs, 4,000...
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However I soon realized that I wasn't going to get spoon fed the information and that I was going to have to work at becoming a paramedic. When it was all said and done, I still feel that paramedic school was tougher than going through and completing my four-year degree at California State University at Hayward! It was especially tough because I did not have a lot of experience working as an EMT to fall back on. I had no past experience working on an ambulance and I think it really hurt me and made me work harder than I probably should have. It makes sense now, when I look back at the situation: how did I expect to be a good paramedic, if I had never learned to become an excellent EMT? We're taught to crawl, and then walk. It was like an amateur athlete competing in a triathlon without ever becoming an excellent swimmer, bicyclist, and or runner! Think of paramedic school the same way. Did I complete it? Yes; but it wasn't easy.
When I started paramedic school it dawned on my very quickly that I had to become a paramedic because I wanted to become a paramedic, not because I wanted to become a firefighter. I had to acknowledge that while my ultimate long-term goal was to become a firefighter, for my short and medium range goals, I needed to work at being the best paramedic I could be. After talking to many paramedics and nurses that work in the field as preceptors in both hospitals and on ambulances, I started to realize that there was a significant failure rate when going through paramedic school, and that many of the students failed during the field internship phase.
Further investigation led me to understand why students were failing. Many of them had never worked as an EMT, and/or on an ambulance! Besides not having the prior experience, paramedic students were also at a disadvantage because many of the preceptors were sick and tired of students becoming paramedics just to become firefighters. They wanted people to be like they were when they were going to paramedic school, which was working at becoming the best paramedic they could be when they ultimately worked for the private ambulance company (because that is where most of the paramedic jobs were). In some ways, I can't blame the preceptors for not wanting to take students without EMT experience, or being even harder on them for not having EMT experience.
I had started out in paramedic school like many students probably do. I had thought I could "skate" through the class work, get the license, get on a fire department, and do what I had to do to get by until the ambulance arrived or I didn't have to be a paramedic anymore. Reality soon set in after talking to many working firefighter / paramedics and private ambulance paramedics that advised me that I better become a paramedic because I want to, not because I have to. There was too much at risk if I didn't have my heart into it. It did not take much to lose your paramedic license (versus your EMT certificate); giving the wrong medication, not giving any medication, giving too much medication, not placing the Endotracheal tube in the right place, and the list goes on and on. All of those things could lead to losing my license. Well, I'm not a genius, but I did see that if I did not complete paramedic school, or lost my paramedic license because of one of those above mentioned items, I would probably never, never, get another job as a paramedic or firefighter. I didn't like that thought. There is too much liability and at stake for a paramedic to be doing what they do if their heart and soul is not into it.
Also, I started seeing that many fire departments required their paramedics to be paramedics for a set number of years: 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, their entire career, until they promote, etc. I had to take a long look at the situation. Could I be a paramedic and be miserable at it for the next 30 years (because I did it just to become a firefighter) or could I make the best of it and embrace it and make the best of it? I chose the make the best of it and embrace it philosophy and I am glad I did. If I truly wanted to be a firefighter, but I had to be a paramedic for my entire career? Yes; because my ultimate goal was to be a firefighter. Not everyone is willing to make that commitment.
One preceptor told me, "When you start your field internship, you should be able to hit the ground running as a safe EMT, and a beginning paramedic. I first test you on your basic EMT skills to confirm your competency, and then let you start adding your paramedic skills. The last thing I want to be doing on your first few shifts is to be teaching you how to use a gurney or how to use your EMT skills that you had never used before (outside of the classroom). That takes up valuable training time that we don't have to spare." I couldn't agree with him more. Because of the glut of EMT students without experience, I could see how many of the preceptors were getting frustrated, not wanting to take students without experience, not wanting to pass them because they weren't even competent EMT's, and how students were failing their internships.