By Art Hsieh
Editor's note: The Dale Long bill that will extend death and disability benefits to emergency medical personnel who work for volunteer or nonprofit ambulance services passed the U.S. Senate last week. Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh explains why this is a big step in recognizing the 'patchwork of services that we call EMS.'
Slowly, our country's lawmakers are recognizing the patchwork of services that we call EMS. The passage of this bill allows survivors of non-governmental responders killed in the line of duty to collect federal public safety officer benefits (PSOB). In many ways, this change in the law has been long overdue.
The debate should not have centered around whether volunteers or privately employed EMS personnel should be providing 911 service.
That discourse will only start to occur when we decide what the role of EMS should be, first at a national level, then down through the state and regional systems.
The simple, sobering fact is that many different types of folks DO provide 911 services today, and have been during the entire time the PSOB program has been available. Should it really make that much of a difference what the color of the uniform or the name on the shoulder patch, when one of us dies on duty?
In my career I have worked for volunteer, private, and government services. The field work has consisted of long hours, low wages and occasionally scary and unsafe situations. I've been shot at, threatened with a knife, walked in on a carbon monoxide filled scene, carried very heavy patients down multiple flights of stairs.
I've worked alongside totally dedicated individuals who were committed to providing excellent care and advocate for the patient. (And yes, I've partnered with folks who weren't.) At no point did it matter whom I worked for. Ever. The pride and professionalism can be universal.
At some point, I do believe there will be national dialogue of who should provide EMS. For now, let's recognize the folks who are providing the service today, every day. Receiving PSOB is one form of recognition.