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Home > Topics > EMS Management
January 02, 2014
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

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.

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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