In honor of EMS Week

The week of May 19-25 is the 45th annual National EMS Week. In 1974, President Gerald Ford authorized EMS Week to celebrate EMS practitioners and the important work they do in our nation’s communities.

Here are some reflections from one of your local volunteer EMT’s honoring those in our area who respond through Emergency Medical Services:

“Even the strongest of us have our breaking points; some people don’t realize where their breaking point is. You don’t go into the EMS field thinking it’s going to be all sunshine and roses.  You go into EMS thinking you can handle what you’re going to see. And to a certain extent you can handle it – until you can’t.”

EMS Strong.  Those words convey an incredibly powerful message about the EMS profession. EMS goes beyond the 911 call. Yes, EMS is about excellent patient care, but it’s also so much more.  It’s community care that takes time and energy and heart — far beyond the scope of our everyday calling. It’s a responsibility to care for our community — and for our fellow EMS providers that doesn’t end when the shift does.

Responding to harrowing emergency calls, performing lifesaving skills under stress and providing patient care in intense situations are just part of our job. Our abilities, determination and resilience are put to the test every day.

What Is EMS Strong?

What matters more — the stuff on the outside, or the stuff on the inside?

Next time we’re (volunteer/professional EMS responder) getting dressed for a day of work, take an extra moment for a good look in the mirror. What — and who — do you see looking back at you? Look that person in the eye, take a deep breath, and ask some tough questions:

What if today’s call brings us face-to-face with a mother whose teenage son has hanged himself in the basement? This is a moment she’s going to remember forever. The way we break the news, the look on our face, our body language — those all matter as much as our words. Are we ready for that?

What if today we find ourselves with a partner who cuts corners, who drives irresponsibly, whose personal triage system involves treating people differently based on the color of their skin, the shade of their religion, the hue of their sexual orientation? Are we prepared to do what we know is right?

What if today’s calls bring nothing but mundane, routine responses that don’t use our skills or challenge us? Will we be professional and courteous, but nothing more? Or will we find or make opportunities to be the best part of someone’s bad day?

What if today involves the worst call of our career? What if we find ourselves utterly exhausted, annoyed, sore, uncertain, discouraged or afraid? Where will we look for strength when ours is used up?

Now, are you ready for a shock? The answers to these questions really don’t matter.

What matters is that we’re willing to ask them honestly and reflect on what they mean. What matters is acknowledging that sometimes we are going to come up short, sometimes we’ll be unsure of ourselves, and sometimes even our best isn’t going to be enough, and we are going to fail. In fact, if we answer those questions easily and with confidence, we are probably fooling ourselves.

What matters is acknowledging that the stuff on the inside of the Paramedic/EMT/EMR will never live up to the world’s perception of the stuff on the outside. The stuff on the outside is a legend, a myth, a façade. The stuff on the inside is human.

What matters is how we face that realization, and how we balance the humans we are with the superhumans the rest of the world expects us to be.

And where the two come together, we will find EMS Strong.

EMS Strong is what draws a special few together to do incredibly important work, often under difficult circumstances, and many times with little thanks.

EMS Strong is the bond we share with fellow emergency responders. Sometimes that bond is expressed in a silent nod of recognition, and other times it takes the form of war stories shared for the umpteenth time. But it’s always there.

EMS Strong is the knowledge that we’re part of something very special. It’s the belief in something bigger than ourselves — bigger than our level of certification, bigger than the color of the patch on our shoulder.

EMS Strong is the well from which we draw the courage to maintain our composure when the going gets tougher than most people can imagine.

EMS Strong is the willingness to keep learning and growing, as an individual and as part of a profession that’s evolving in the healthcare field.

EMS Strong is what allows people to trust us with their secrets, with their nakedness, with their safety, with their very lives or the lives of their loved ones. It’s also what makes us able to accept the burden of that trust.

EMS Strong is what draws us to help, what empowers us to face danger when others are running away. It’s there in those moments, big and little, when we find out what we’re made of. It’s what makes us proud. It’s what keeps us humble.

EMS Strong is precious, but it doesn’t belong to us. It’s on loan, and we need to pay it back with interest for future generations.

EMS Strong is us. EMS Strong is me.

Now, stop talking to yourself in the mirror. It’s time to get to work.

Our insignia is the “Staff of Life” — the “serpent on a pole” symbol came from this KJV Bible verse.

Numbers 21:8 “And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.”

From this volunteer EMT’s heart — “I want to strive to be the best part of someone’s worst day.”

Dawn Peterson

Hackensack Area Fire and Rescue


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