Let’s add a new "E" in EMS…
by Matt Zavadsky, MHA
Thursday, May 12, 2005

"Insights" columnist Matt Zavadsky focuses on the implications of recent news from around the world and it's impact on EMS nationally and in your home town.

Matt Zavadsky, MHA
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It may be a hard sell to get the EMS industry to add a new "E" to the "EMS" acronym, but considering recent disturbing news items, it is something we must seriously ponder.

Consider some of the recent news stories published on EMSN News and other sources in just the past 30 days:

§ Florida firefighter arrested and confesses to sex with neighborhood children under the age of 10

§ Sacramento fire crews are suspended for lewd acts in fire station with strippers

§ San Francisco Fire Battalion chief is suspended for alleged on duty DUI

§ Florida paramedics suspended for selling narcotics from the fire station

§ Washington paramedic suspended for administering 30mg of Morphine and 20mg Valium to a fellow injured firefighter

§ Florida fire chief quits over lewd internet personals ad photo in uniform

§ Georgia fire chief quits amid charges of falsifying federal grant requests

§ Maine ambulance worker arraigned on arrest for sex with a minor

§ Massachusetts Dept of Health employee pleads guilty to issuing false EMS certifications for friends

§ Missouri fire chief pleads on embezzlement charge

What are we doing??!!

While these headlines admittedly focus on the "bad apples" of our industry, there has recently been a plethora of new reports of unethical, illegal and immoral behavior on the part of emergency workers. Is it any wonder our society has become jaded and mistrusting? When paramedics and firefighters start selling drugs from the fire station, taking on-duty fire trucks to strip clubs and driving emergency vehicles under the influence of alcohol, we are all to blame.

Every industry has its challenges with ethics and the law. Enron, Tyco, MCI-Worldcom, and Martha Stuart Living are just a few high-profile examples of companies with leadership vacuums. However, as emergency workers, we must be held to a higher standard. We need to be the Guardian Angels of public trust. When citizens call 9-1-1, they should not have to wonder whether the responders are pedophiles or drug dealers; are under the influence or casing their home.

We cannot point any fingers without looking in the mirror first - taking a critical introspective look at our own personal behaviors and choices. It is imperative that every day we assure that the decisions we make and actions we take are legal, fair, ethical and moral. I'm not in any way professing to be some form of ethics cop. Like all of us, I have done some things in my life that I will be judged for one day. The point is that each of us owes it to our community, profession and co-workers to continuously look for and report unethical, illegal or immoral behavior in our ranks.

When it comes to our co-workers, leaders and entire profession, we need to take a zero tolerance approach to these types of behaviors. Emergency service workers are a tight brotherhood. Very few things happen, either on or off duty, without SOMEONE knowing. A co-worker who fails to report illegal or unethical behavior is as guilty of tarnishing our profession as the worker engaging in the activity. Supervisors who fail to immediately and decisively act on impaired subordinates are violating the public trust to the detriment of us all.

Taking a zero tolerance approach may add to the media storm to some extent regarding the actions of the bad apples, but imagine the headlines' focus change to things like "Fire chief lauded for swift action in sex abuse case", or "Mayor commended for implementing whistle blower policy."

Our profession should be admired by kids, not admonished by the media. Parents should be able to trust that when their child is put in the back of an ambulance, they will not be attended by a pedophile. The motoring public should be able to feel secure knowing the Battalion chief driving the HUGE SUV is not chemically impaired.

It's time to add the "E" of ethics to our "EMS" acronym.

May 10, 2005, 23:15