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Overcoming bias, small-mindedness in EMS

EMS leaders must promote a culture that values professionalism and excellence, regardless of age, sex, race, sexual orientation or religion


With our country's increasingly polarized views on politics, immigration and race, it's no surprise that our small industry is reflective of society as a whole. While it's OK to disagree, sometimes vehemently, about our views, it's crossing a serious line when roles get confused and lives are threatened.

Such is the case in New York recently. A union rep for FDNY EMS providers was threatened with an epitaph-filled letter after she referred a fellow worker to a top-level union official in regard to the disciplinary hearing that involved the hanging of a noose in an ambulance. The worker admitted that he had committed the act as a prank for another co-worker in regard to a failed relationship, and that it wasn't related to race. The letter appeared on the union rep's locker, threatening her with death for "trying to get innocent people fired for a prank."

This situation is so wrong on a few levels.

The letter appeared on the union rep's locker, threatening her with death for "trying to get innocent people fired for a prank." (Photo/Illinois Department of Human Rights)
The letter appeared on the union rep's locker, threatening her with death for "trying to get innocent people fired for a prank." (Photo/Illinois Department of Human Rights)

Symbolism counts

The noose has come to symbolize the bigotry and hatred directed at African-Americans in American history. Media reports indicate that the appearance of nooses in the work place and in public spaces has been increasing. While it's possible that this "prank" may not have been rooted in race, it was an unacceptable choice of imagery.

Just representation

The union rep is African-American; the involved co-worker is Caucasian. It appeared that she did her due diligence in getting a union vice president involved with representation as disciplinary procedures began. I'm perplexed as to why she received a threatening letter for doing her job. As a rep, she is charged with ensuring that all represented employees are afforded their worker rights. Why did the writer believe she was trying to get him fired?

Faceless name calling is cowardice

This part bothers me the most: why not confront the person you disagree with and have an out and out discussion or debate about your views? It's possible that the letter writer is also a represented individual within the union. That person has every right to debate the merits of his or her arguments. That person also has the right to hear any counterarguments that exist.

Leaving a letter stuck to a locker is cowardice. It says that the person knows what they are thinking is wrong and immoral. It says they are too afraid, too immature to have an adult conversation about serious issues. It says that they are juvenile in thought; that somehow, an EMS stationhouse is pretty much like a junior high school.

Leadership must lead

Issues related to race are difficult to deal with. From childhood, we are raised to believe certain ideas about people. Biases are created and reinforced. Stereotypes take our bias one step further, brushing whole classes of people with broad strokes. Racism and bigotry crosses the thin line, bringing anger and hatred into the picture.

All of this occurred long before any of the people involved began working at that station. No wonder it's a huge challenge for EMS leadership to try to control the issues. Yet that is what is needed – prospective, long-term and active processes that maintain professionalism within the workplace, in addition to any disciplinary procedures that punish those who dare to cross the line of civility and respect.

A pithy memo or slogan won't ever be enough to promote safety for everyone at the workplace. It's promoting a culture that values professionalism and excellence, regardless of age, sex, race, sexual orientation or religion that is required.

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