Do You Hate Working With Your Partner?

Phil, a West Coast paramedic/ firefighter working in a medium-sized fire department, spent seven years rotating between the engine and the ambulance, working mostly on the ambulance. He started as a volunteer in high school, then attended the local community college to get his Firefighter I and II and EMT certifications. Later, after being hired by the fire department, he went to paramedic school and took other classes in preparation for his career. He truly enjoyed his job and loved going to work.

But his enthusiasm ended last January, when the chief issued the new shift and crew assignments. To Phil’s dismay, he learned he was assigned with Mark. His heart dropped into his stomach. Nobody wanted to work with Mark. Mark bounced from shift to shift and station to station. Battalion chiefs would draw straws each year to see who would have to take Mark in their district and shift.

Work in the profession long enough and you will eventually wind up with a partner you hate working with, making you muster every bit of energy just to come to work. To make matters worse, you usually spend more time with your partner in a week than you do with your family. There’s nowhere to hide – it’s just the two of you working on the ambulance.

Mark is every paramedic/firefighter’s nightmare. He constantly brags about how good a paramedic and firefighter he is, complains about everything, has no manners, and is downright rude to people on calls. Just one of these behaviors can be enough to ruin your shift and make you not look forward to coming to work.

Based upon these behaviors, I have come up with some categories of partners with whom you might not want to work:

  • “The Locomotive” – The partner who expresses constant negativity by steamrolling over people. He wants to start a fight, is rude and hostile to everyone on the scene, and yells at bystanders to get out of his way, even if the bystander tried to aid the victim prior to the medic’s arrival.

    Possibly the worst of all is his rudeness to people on a call. In many cases you are already walking into a heated or emotional situation where the tension can be cut with a knife. All you need to do is add one rude or hostile paramedic/firefighter to the mix and suddenly everybody turns on you and your partner. Then you find yourself calling for the police to urgently respond to the scene for assistance.

  • “The Telexaggerationist” – The paramedic/firefighter who becomes offensive when he finds out upon arrival that the call did not meet his expectations. A good example of this occurs when what at first appears to be a shooting call turns out to be an ordinary sick case – i.e., the patient has been sick for two weeks with general weakness.

    The call did not meet the expectations of the Telexaggerationist. His adrenaline was pumping because trauma to the head, chest or abdomen would put his skills and training to the test. But it was an ordinary sick case. Maybe the dispatcher screened the call wrong or the person who called 911 embellished (“telexaggeration”) the story; either way, the Telexaggerationist may get angry. After all, he just rushed a couple of miles with lights and sirens when there was no real emergency. He may take out his anger and frustration on the patient or the family. A certain percentage of patients and family members may take it with a grain of salt, but most won’t accept aggression and lack of sympathy – especially in their own home. They fight back, with words or actions. And they don’t care who started it. You’re guilty through association. All you can do is defend yourself.

  • “Mr./Ms. Perfect” – The partner who is perfect in every way and constantly lets you know it. Not only is he the best at IVs, patient assessments and intubation, but he drives the best truck, has the best kids in the school, wears the finest clothes and buys the best of everything. You dread coming to work in the morning because the first words out of his mouth describe some highlight in his life. You get sage advice all day long on how to handle everything in your life from what toothpaste to use to what fire magazine you should be reading.

  • “The Crybaby” – The partner who constantly complains. It seems that nothing makes him happy in his life. From the moment he wakes up until he lays his head back down on the pillow, he’s complaining about something. He complains about how the off-going crew left the ambulance; he can’t get a vacation day; somebody lost one of his training certificates; the nurse at the hospital was not fast enough at the triage desk. From his bills to his old turnout gear, everything makes him miserable.

  • “The Uncommitted” – This partner does not take his job seriously, making your work more difficult. Work is a very low priority for this person, so his focus on a scene or at the firehouse is trying to do as little as possible. In many cases, he will work harder at getting out of work. This is the person who always disappears into the bathroom when it’s time for house chores, who expects the first responding engine company to do the heavy lifting of the patient for transport. Not only do you have to spend 24 hours with him during a shift, but also your life may be endangered by his on-scene actions.

How do you deal with these behaviors? You have two choices – ignore or communicate. Communication means talking to one another. It may hurt some feelings, but if it’s done in a constructive manner it may help the situation. Who knows? During that communication, you may even learn something about yourself.

Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the chief of Special Operations for Jefferson County, MO. He retired in 2001 as the chief paramedic for the St. Louis Fire Department after serving the City of St. Louis for 25 years. He is also vice chairman of the EMS Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally, and is on the faculty of three colleges. Ludwig has a master’s degree in management and business and a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and is a licensed paramedic. He also operates The Ludwig Group, a professional consulting firm. He can be reached at 636 789-5660 or via