I find it difficult to imagine a time in the future where this comfort that I have with my city, my coworkers, my patients, my fellow responders is old. Where it makes for a burnt out Angela, and not a confident, happy medic.
There is a road in my city, it spans from the beautiful suburbs to the east all the way down town to the worst that this area has to offer. Its more than one road really, but its straight, and it’s the first road you learn to travel when working in this system. It literally takes you everywhere. This morning I happened to come up to this road, patient loaded, at one of its main intersections just as the sun was clearing the trees. A historic building, long since converted to apartments, which have long since been considered a desirable place to live, was lit up with the most perfect streak of sun. It was beautiful, it was a moment that made me remember that there is a side of this city, a side of this job that some people choose to overlook.
I’ve said it before, but it needs to be restated, it is an honor and a privilege to do this job. This is an important classification of coworkers for me; people that treat what we do as a stepping stone, as a means to an end and people that love this. People that are here for the same reason as I am, and people that are not. I prefer to work with the people that are here for my reasons, but I can tolerate the people that are not; the folks who grace us with their presence on their 5 off from fire, just to pay for a new bike, or an addition to the family home in the suburbs, that call this job ‘slumming it.’ I detest their idea about this kind of work, but there are valuable lessons to be learned from them, and they can learn from me as well. But the people that I love to spend my work hours with are the people that feel this work the same way I do. The people that don’t just come here to get a little thrill working in the big city and then retreat back to their comfy day rooms for 3 squares and a bunk at night, happily forgetting that they started here before they grabbed that golden fire ring.
My people are the folks that are happy to be bleary and battered, happy to do that last call before end, happy to be posted downtown at 2 am on a Saturday night, happy to pick up the regular who calls for the same exact thing, three times a day. We’re a dying breed however, so when I find these people, I hang tight. What makes us a dying breed? In my area, the ’big city’ is covered by private services. I am often curious about what fire or third service employees would say about their job satisfaction in other city settings. What are those employees moving on to? And if the answer is nothing, what is it that brings the fire mentality, the fire happiness to the private service call volume? Is it the pension? Do they really make that much more? Is it the lack of mobile posting? Does a station matter when you never get back to it? Or is it something about working for a city and not a conglomerate? I’m hard pressed to believe that those people that just like to complain poison municipal EMS as much as they do here in the private service. Maybe its something else still. Maybe it’s the smaller number of part time transient workers. The people that call my job ‘slumming’ don’t work at those publicly funded EMS organizations. That strength report is filled with full timers.
The real point about all this is the simple fact that publicly funded anything is becoming a thing of the past; everything is going private. There’s a reason for that; our infrastructures are crumbling. Schools are falling down, roads are coming apart, public health care is bankrupt. Your child is just as likely to graduate from JFK High as he is The Pepsi-Cola High School for Future Diabetics. The private sector will pump a lot of money into a system where they can reap rewards, and they have that money to spend. I’m not making a judgment about what we gain or lose when the public sector loses control in favor of increased ad space by these companies. What I am saying is that no one has ever talked about me being laid off. I have a job as long as I have a pulse and medical control. I don’t have a pension, my retirement plan is my own making, but I’ll never have to worry about how many people are below me on the seniority list. I have job security in a sector that will never-in my lifetime-become obsolete. I’m not worried about becoming a call employee, I’m not concerned about 7 people working opposite me being laid off because my job has been funding their positions for a decade. I’m really not worried about my working conditions changing at all. We get new trucks that look like space ships, we go through trials and tribulations finding cost effective EPCR equipment, we’re last in line for the newest cardiac monitors, and we answer to a different hierarchy, but the private sector is the wave of the future. Why is it that we are less selective in hiring? Why do the bottom of the barrel employees still pull us all down on a daily basis?
I’ll admit, I sound anti-fire. And I suppose that’s not inaccurate. To be more accurate, one would say that I am anti-fire based EMS-and of course we all know I‘m anti-the risk that goes along with fire suppression. More importantly than that, I am anti-working with assholes that hate this job and think that full time employees of private companies are second class citizens, especially when they themselves are full time employees working in private EMS. I can only surmise that these misers, these Debbie Downers have long ago reached their personal call volume and never found a way to jump ship, never had a back up plan. I think about that possibility often. Will I hate my job when I’ve been doing it for 15 years? What career options will be available to me then? What back up plan do I have? Well, none. But I think there’s an intrinsic difference between my humble beginnings as a medic in the big city and those that are senior to me and begrudgingly putting one foot in front of the other every time they pull the cot behind them. That difference may have something to do with being able to see the beauty in the sun rise over the projects.