The job is a great opportunity to to network, build long-lasting relationships, and get a foot in the door if you, so you must always act professional.
Many private ambulance companies station ambulances at fire stations. Why do they do this? They do this for many reasons, such as:
- It allows them to build a harmonious working relationship with the fire department
- It allows them to typically provide better quality living quarters for their personnel
- It can be cheaper for them to do this than to rent an apartment or office building
- It allows them to provide a roof over the heads of their personnel (as opposed to having them post at a street corner)
- It can provide them with better security for their personnel, their ambulances, and their equipment
My department has four fire stations (out of 17) that house ambulances for the local private ambulance company. These fire stations house the ambulance and the personnel on either a 12- or 24-hour basis. The fire station I was previously assigned to had two paramedics that are paid by the ambulance company to come directly to our fire station when their shift starts and spend the entire day side-by-side with my crew.
This can be a valuable experience for you if you get the opportunity to do this. However, it can also be a not-so-valuable experience if you do not play by the rules (written or unwritten) and do things that portray yourself in a bad light, especially if you are trying to get hired by the fire department.
In my experience, here are some of the things I have seen the ambulance personnel do that I would not suggest you doing:
- Sitting down watching television or playing video games while the firefighters are cleaning the fire station, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals. While that may not be in your "job specifications" for the ambulance company you are employed by, it is common courtesy to help out others while they are working. Plus, it shows that you understand the importance of team work.
- Not taking the initiative to do things when they need to get done. I love it when I walk by the trash can at their desk or in their bathroom and I see if overflowing with trash, and additional trash on the floor. Hello? If the trash needs to be emptied (even if it is "not the time we usually do it") then just do it!
- Not doing the jobs you are assigned to do. At my fire station, the ambulance crews have to clean their bathroom as well as the visitor's bathroom in the front lobby area. Well, many of us use that visitor's bathroom throughout the day because of its proximity to our office and exercise room. Many days I go in to use the bathroom, shortly after they have cleaned it, and I find that there is no extra toilet paper, hand paper towels, hand soap, or that they really did a halfway cleaning job.
- Realizing that even though the fire officers (like myself) are not your bosses and cannot discipline you (that is up to their supervisors at the ambulance company), we are still able to provide you with a good or bad reference if ever asked by an employer you are seeking a job for, your supervisor if they ever ask, and our supervisors if they ever ask.
- Having a bad attitude when it comes to the bell going off. Face it, most private ambulances run more calls than fire apparatus do. While my engine might go out five times a day, it was not uncommon for the private ambulance to go out 10 to 15 times a day. It is very common to hear the private ambulance paramedics complain, get frustrated, voice their negative opinion about a "B.S." call, etc. Well, if you're complaining about going on calls now (especially the "BS" calls), do you think it's going to change when you get hired as a firefighter? I doubt it.
We realize it must be very tiring and frustrating to work for low pay (compared to our wages) and lesser benefits than the firefighters have, as well know you're going to be up most of the night running calls all over the county, and not getting to completely eat your meals (and sometimes eat them hours after we have saved them for you after we've finished eating). However, having a bad attitude about doing what we're paid to do (run the calls when the bell goes off and provide customer service to anyone that requests us) does not make you a better firefighter candidate in my eyes. Remember, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
- Remember you are constantly in the spotlight. Like it or not, you are almost worse off than a probationary firefighter because you are always getting evaluated (you may not think you are, but you are being evaluated, at least informally by the firefighters, company officers, and chief officers that are forming their opinions and perceptions about you - good or bad). At least a probationary firefighter gets off of probation at some point. One dumb mistake, lazy moment, or lack of initiative or drive can take away any good thoughts that people may have had about you.
- Wear your uniform as you are expected to. Since you don't work for our fire department, it is not our responsibility to ensure you are in your proper uniform; it is your responsibility to be properly attired. When our crew has to be in proper uniform all day (and I know your company has a uniform policy of some sort), try not to be the outcast in an unapproved t-shirt or sweatshirt, or by looking sloppy. I remember being on an EMS call and looking over at one of the paramedics who has his shirt sticking out (untucked) with food stains on the front of it. Classy.
- Walk the walk, talk the talk.
- Be prompt getting out of the station when responding to a call.
- Realize that whether you believe it or not, you are representing the fire department. You might wonder how that might be true; well, the average person has no clue that there is a difference in who we may work for. If they call 9-1-1, and they see the firefighters, they typically assume that the ambulance and the ambulance personnel work for the fire department. I remember when I first got hired as a Firefighter and I saw a paramedic that worked for the ambulance company severely disrespect and mistreat a patient. Now, mind you, this patient was homeless, looked like they had not showered in the last ten years, and smelled the same. This paramedic was swearing and being very rude to this person, and in a nut shell, telling that they didn't need to go to the hospital, that they were wasting our time, and that they were basically a burden to society.
I remember looking at my captain and asking him tactfully and respectfully "that doesn't seem right the way he is treating that person" and having my captain reply back "that's just so-and-so; he treats everyone the same way." Well, I beg to differ, we do not and should not treat people that way, which is unacceptable. Even besides the fact that the paramedic's behavior was unacceptable and inappropriate, was the fact that the paramedic was representing the fire department and that many people could easily mistake them for one of us. With budgets so tight and everyone so customer service conscious these days, we need everything we can to go in our favor and be looked as providing the best level of service we can.
As I worked more for the department, I had many more opportunities to see this paramedic in action, and I would venture that he treated a good majority of his patients this same way, that was just the way he operated and obviously nobody had taken the time to educate him or correct his behavior. He had made his reputation not just with me, but with many of the fire, law, and ambulance personnel through the county. As luck would have it, he eventually wanted to become a firefighter. If I'm not mistaken, he's still looking for a fire job, and will probably have an extremely tough time getting one in the bay area because of his past behavior. I'll never forget his behavior and use this as a case to reinforce that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
In conclusion, working as an EMT or paramedic for a private ambulance company and getting to work out of a fire station is an incredible way to network, build long-lasting relationships, and get a foot in the door if you make sure you represent yourself in the most professional way. Learn from the mistakes of others to ensure you make the most of this valuable experience!
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County, CA, Fire Department and an instructor for the Chabot College, CA, Fire Technology Program. Steve is a 16-year veteran of the fire service. He holds a master's degree in emergency services administration, has authored numerous fire service articles featured in the leading fire service publications and is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events. He has also mentored and coached numerous entry-level and promotional level candidates. You can find valuable fire service entry level and promotional preparation information and his contact information on his website: www.chabotfire.com.