What is EMS: A Definition


EMS is the acronym for Emergency Medical Services. This term refers to the treatment and transport of people in crisis health situations that may be life threatening. Emergency medical support is applied in a wide variety of situations from car accidents to drownings to incidents of heart attack.

EMS units work out of ambulances, fire departments and hospitals. Oftentimes emergency medical services are in place where the risk of an accident or health crises is high, such as ski areas, professional sports events and dangerous job sites like offshore oil rigs.

EMS are staffed by trained medical professionals, called EMTs, or emergency medical technicians. There are several different levels of EMT, depending on the location, including EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate and EMT Paramedic - and many different requirements to be an EMT. An EMT basic is the most elementary level of EMT training, but it allows the practitioner to do important life saving functions, such as bandaging wounds, treating burns, doing CPR and stabilizing spine and neck fractures and broken bones. Becoming an EMT Basic requires specialized training in Basic Life Support (BLS), which takes an average of about six months to complete.

EMS also employs paramedics who have Advanced Life Support (ALS) training. Paramedic training involves rigorous schooling, which takes about two years to complete, depending on state requirements. A paramedic’s scope of treatment includes performing life saving procedures such as tracheal intubation and I.V. support, as well as the Basic Life Support functions performed by a basic EMT. All levels of EMTs must be certified at the state level.

The rules of EMS operations vary widely according the state in which they’re located. There are privately operated units and publicly operated ones. There are also volunteer units which are usually found in rural areas where the local government can’t afford to operate these types of services. In these instances, the emergency workers usually have the most basic level of medical training.

There are also airborne EMS operations which respond to medical emergencies via helicopters staffed by a combination of EMTs, doctors and nurses. These services can be run by hospitals or government entities at the federal, state and local levels. Fire departments, State Police and the National Park Service run airborne Emergency Medical Service operations. They respond to medical emergencies such as car accidents with serious injuries, wilderness rescues, airplane crashes and other situations where using airborne transportation can mean the difference between life and death.

EMS is also employed to transport patients in non-emergency situations when the patient needs critical care while moving from one medical facility to the next. In these cases, a trained EMT, doctor, or nurse administers medical care involving things like IV pump infusion maintenance, ventilator management, aortic balloon pump monitoring, cardio monitoring and other critical functions.

Ambulances are the most common purveyors of Emergency Medical Service operations. Federal regulations stipulate that ambulances be staffed with two workers with a minimum of Basic Life Support training. The most common staffing is with one basic EMT and one paramedic. Occasionally, a unit is staffed with more than one paramedic.

EMS are important players in maintaining the health and safety of our communities.

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About the author

EMS 101 articles are intended to educate a non-emergency medical services audience about the emergency medical services profession. These articles are written by EMS1 staff members and EMS1 contributors, and cover a wide range of topics from EMS protocols all paramedics & EMTs should follow to an overview of the necessary requirements for becoming a paramedic.

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