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Why I don’t care if you call me an ‘ambulance driver’

Regardless of my title, I know my job and I know what I’m worth to society, and that’s all that matters

By Sean Eddy

For some time, our industry has had a bad case of rectal tenderness when it comes to the term “Ambulance Driver.” We post ridiculous pictures on social media, write blog posts and even sell t-shirts to inform the public that we do more than just drive ambulances. What we don’t do is look at ourselves through the public eye to figure out just why we are viewed as vehicle operators.

But this post isn’t about that ...

If I were to demand a title that accurately represents what I do the majority of the time, it simply couldn’t be “paramedic.” Actually, it wouldn’t be “ambulance driver” either. It would be more like “station occupier” or “general task-completer.” The truth is, patient care is what I do the least of.

Regardless of my title, I know my job and I know what I’m worth to society, and that’s all that matters. I don’t earn respect for my profession by demanding a title. I do it by standing tall, showing up with a smile on my face, not leaving the station without a neatly pressed uniform and being the absolute best caregiver that I can be.

Now let‘s pretend for a minute that titles do matter. What would that mean for me when I’m called an “ambulance driver”?

Let’s see, I do spend a good amount of time in the driver‘s seat of an ambulance...actually half of the time it’s moving to be exact, so it’s not exactly an inaccurate representation of how I spend my time. So if I can’t complain that the title misrepresents the amount of the time I spend doing it, then that leaves me to compare the importance of the job of an “ambulance driver” against that of a “paramedic.”

So what exactly does it mean to be an “ambulance driver?”

For starters, I operate a vehicle that is much larger and heavier than most people will ever drive in their lifetime. I have more blind spots on my vehicle than just about anything else on the road. I have a stopping distance that is only rivaled by fully loaded trains and tanker trucks. I can’t fit my vehicle into any standard parking spot or driveway and missing a turn usually involves going between “reverse” and “drive” three to six times before I can point myself back in the right direction.

And that’s just pertaining to the size and weight of the vehicle ...

I’m faced with not only safely operating a large vehicle, but doing so while monitoring radio traffic, navigating to any address in an 8-minute response-time, and accepting responsibility for all the drivers on the road. I have to know every major intersection in my response area and how to get there from any point on the map. I have to proceed through intersections during a red light with confidence that I’ve cleared every lane and made myself visible to every vehicle. I do all this while navigating some of the most difficult terrain, weather and traffic conditions.

And that’s just before I get to the call …

Once the patient and crew members are loaded in my ambulance, I then have to start the journey to the hospital. Of course, this means knowing how to get to the hospital from every location in my response area. I‘m faced with providing a smooth ride with one of worst-riding vehicles known to man. Regardless of speed bumps, potholes, or rough roads, I must provide a steady enough ride for my partner to be able to start IV‘s, perform assessments, and administer treatments. I‘m charged with the safety of everyone on board. My occupants are often unrestrained and on their feet when critical interventions are being performed. One wrong move would send my partner and every unrestrained care provider through the front windshield. On some occasions, I‘m even driving with lights and sirens to the hospital, only now I don‘t have a second set of eyes to watch for hazards. Now combine all of that with everything I mentioned in regards to the size of the vehicle and what it takes to get to a call.

Yes, paramedics have a very important job. Being able to accurately assess and identify life-threatening conditions and injuries while maintaining competence in the treatment for said problems is a never-ending task. Of course, none of that matters if the guy behind the wheel doesn‘t do his job right. In that case, everyone on board is nothing more than a tally of victims.

So what’s the moral of the story? It doesn’t matter what you call me. I know what my role is and I’m going to give my job 100 percent every call, every time. Instead of claiming that a title degrades what I do, I‘m going to do my very best to lift that title up and give it a better meaning. So yes, I am an ambulance driver, and I’m a damn good one.

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