Underage EMT vs. professionalism
The time to change policies and procedures is when analysis shows a need, not in the heat of the moment
By Arthur Hsieh
This little story about a young EMS provider taking matters into his own hands and driving a squad unit to a medical call in violation of department regulations has taken on a life of its own in social media circles. There have been hundreds of posts and rants about the situation, with the vast majority supporting the EMS provider’s actions to transport the 4-year-old to the hospital after she began having seizures, and no other ambulance crews were available. Stephen Sawyer, 20, did not meet the 21-year-old age requirement to drive the vehicle.
I have to respectfully disagree with the masses. What he did was reckless, and places the entire organization at risk.
An EMS organization provides its service in a high-risk environment. Like any other business, it tries to mitigate its risk through prudent business practices, including carrying insurance that provides protection for its members and itself in case of a major issue, such as a crash, negligence or other violation of professional performance. The agency depends on its members to follow established guidelines, policies and procedures to accomplish its mission. Not doing so not only exposes the department to unnecessary higher risk; it also shows a lack of discipline in professional performance.
To a certain extent, the details of the actual incident are relatively unimportant. Professional behavior is applied consistently, regardless of the situation. The underlying issue is that there was not an adequately staffed unit to respond to a call, which included having appropriately trained personnel of a minimum age operating the unit. If the problem is that the regulation truly constrains the volunteer organization from performing its mission routinely, it would make sense for the board to review its policy and determine whether there can be changes made that makes deployment more flexible in the face of minimum staffing, while protecting the agency.
To arbitrarily make a brash decision in the heat of the moment is not the way to change business practice. It’s less about doing the so-called right thing, and more about putting others at risk. It’s not professional behavior. Regardless of being a volunteer or career provider, the ability to work within policies and procedures, and making changes when appropriate, allows us to do the right thing every day.