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Elements of Leadership
by Chris Cebollero

5 skills Ferguson EMTs used to be their best

Whether you’re writing a report or being threatened by an angry crowd, these skills can help you persevere

By Chris Cebollero

On a recent call, members of Christian Hospital EMS responded to an officer-involved shooting of a teenager in Ferguson, Mo., which shocked the community and quickly deteriorated into riot conditions.

As safe scene broke down, Christian Hospital units were dispatched to stage in anticipation of suspected casualties resulting from an unruly crowd.

At the staging area, there must have been 50 or so law enforcement, fire, and EMS personal ready to respond. The staging area soon became overrun with about 100 protesters shouting "kill the police," "stop the killings," and "we want justice."

In this supposedly safe area, it became apparent very quickly that we might not be safe at all.

As I looked into the faces of my crews on scene, it was obvious they were looking for both leadership and guidance. After sharing my experiences, direction and expectations — which gave some a sense of calm — my finishing comment to the team was: "Right here, right now, you have to be the very best you can be."

In these situations we do not know who is watching us, recording us, or looking to do us harm. Sometimes, it seems we forget exactly how dangerous our professional responsibilities are. Practicing at our highest level should always bring out the very best in us.  

In a scenario like this, here are the skills needed to you should develop in order to achieve greatness, become more effective at work, and be the best EMS provider you can be.

1. Recognize priorities

EMS is full of areas where we need to recognize priorities. This is one of the most vital steps to becoming completely effective at work.

Regardless of the call we are running or the tasks we may have to do in the office, if priorities are not set you are destined to be buried under a continuous ton of tasks.

2. Have a positive attitude

A positive attitude is the cornerstone of becoming the best you can be. Not only does being positive assist you in developing a great reputation, it is also contagious and folks will want to collaborate with you. Developing a positive attitude can be easy.

  • You and only you can derail your positive attitude; don’t let the whiners and complainers deter you. Minimize your exposure with these ninjas of negativity. 
  • Take the initiative whenever you can. Be willing to help a peer in need, and pick up the slack when someone is off sick or falling behind. When striving to be the best, the term “good enough” is not in your vocabulary. Work to complete tasks to the highest standards possible. 
  • They take pride in setting the standards and expect the same from those around you. The people we meet with positive attitudes seem to earn the most respect.
  • Take responsibility for your actions, set the standards for others to follow, make ethical decisions, and always be a person of integrity.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

EMS is a very egotistical business, and this keeps us from asking why when we don’t know something.

One of the big reasons for this is that we don’t want to look like we don’t know what we are doing in front of our peers. This is a very bad place to be. If you know everything there is to know about EMS, raise your hand.

It’s important to know your limitations, understand your weaknesses and develop a plan to turn them into strengths. Regardless of what position you hold in the organization, keep learning and developing through out your career.

4. Manage your time well

To become the most effective in your position, you have to learn this evasive skill. In EMS we seem to live and die by the clock.

From response times, to scene times, to turn-around times, or simply to getting that project done on time, we have meeting certain requirements. Rather than making time an enemy, use it to your advantage. Here are some tips.

  • Know your schedule and understand how you spend your time everyday. Use an activity log to assist you in analyzing how much time you devote to your tasks. This can really give you an understanding of how much time you need throughout your day.
  • Do not multi-task. Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is a killer of our time management. Focus on one task, set priorities and get one task done at a time. You will find yourself more productive at the end of the day.

5. Communicate clearly

From phone calls and emails, to presentations and plain old talking to our workforce, mastering the skills of communication is essential when your goal is to work more effectively.

Become an active listener. This can be hard at times since EMS providers want to fix problems for people. But if a member of your team is talking to you, and you are formulating a response in your head while she is still talking, this can cause you to miss key facts and meanings. Plus, it’s really disrespectful to your teammate. Make a concerted effort to really hear and understand what folks are saying to you.

Don’t allow yourself to become distracted while listening to someone. If you pay attention to what’s around you instead of the person talking, this will lead to a breakdown in the communication process. Pay attention to the person you are in this conversation with. Don’t look at your phone; don’t look at your computer screen. Always give 100 percent of your attention.

It seems we create and respond to 100 emails and texts a day, so it’s important to be a good writer. You need to communicate in writing you can get your point across accurately, concisely and as clear as possible.

As you develop your professional career, it makes no difference if you are writing a report, taking the fourth transfer of the day, or having your safety threatened by a crowd wanting justice. Simply be the best and most effective professional you can be. 

About the author

Chris Cebollero is a nationally recognized Emergency Medical Services leader, author, and advocate. Chris is a member of the John Maxwell Team and available for speaking, coaching and mentoring. Currently Chris is the Chief of Christian Hospital EMS in North St Louis County.
The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Andrew T. Caruso Andrew T. Caruso Sunday, September 07, 2014 9:56:43 AM Strong work Chief.
Thom Swan Thom Swan Sunday, September 07, 2014 10:05:59 AM OK, these are all important skills needed every day at work, but none of them are particularly specialized nor particularly helpful in the circumstances EMS crews faced during either the Ferguson protests or the Ferguson riots. It's a good enough article, but I feel the headline was misleading.
Adrian Ellis Adrian Ellis Sunday, September 07, 2014 8:13:18 PM Tom, I have to totally disagree. As a mental health Strike Team Leader for a Task Force, the mental preparedness of a responder is a key factor in maintaining operational control, it affects everyone. As an example, the one police officer, who is no longer on the force, created a potential bombshell pointing an M-4 and threatening unarmed people. One shot, in the air or God forbid, into a person would have turned that situation into a blood bath. The game face you display can mean the difference between amateur mistakes or professional execution and everyone goes home safe on both sides. You have to have your act together before you leave the station and maintain it at the scene. As the actor James Cagney once said" If you have to get psyched up to do your job, you don't know what you're doing" Being a professional covers all aspects, including your "Game Face"
Judi Miller Judi Miller Monday, September 08, 2014 6:42:28 PM Great article and advice Chris. Sharing with my crews.
Linda Simeone Linda Simeone Tuesday, September 09, 2014 3:49:37 PM There were a lot of good points in this article about overall communicating and being an effective leader, but I agree with Thom Swan, with all that occurred in Ferguson that tragic week, I would have liked to know more just how EMS played a role in that city.
Jim Bullard Jim Bullard Wednesday, September 17, 2014 7:12:12 PM Things to think about.....
Jon Puryear Jon Puryear Thursday, October 02, 2014 10:56:14 AM Very good article Chris. You and your medics obviously learned a lot while dealing with this incident and continue to learn. I like how you applied this to everyday situations that medics will face. I hope you are doing well.

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