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Why Secretary Tom Ridge advocates for EMS

Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security and a sudden cardiac arrest survivor, advocates for EMS at NAEMSP 2019 Annual Meeting

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Photo/Courtesy of Greg Friese

AUSTIN, Texas — Tom Ridge, a two-term governor of Pennsylvania and the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, delivered the opening keynote at the National Association of EMS Physicians annual meeting that called on EMS leaders and physicians to better tell the important story of EMS and advocate for EMS to local, state and federal officials.

Ridge’s 2018 EMS Week video tribute played before he spoke. Ridge suffered a cardiac arrest during a Nov. 16, 2017 visit to Austin. Ridge speaks sincerely and candidly about his heart attack, care from Austin-Travis County EMS paramedics and survival.

“I flatlined three times on the way to the hospital,” Ridge said. “Absent your presence, I would not have made it.”

Ridge is chairman of Ridge Global. He provides clients with solutions to cybersecurity, international security and risk management issues. During his DHS tenure, Secretary Ridge worked with more than 180,000 employees from a combined 22 agencies to create an agency that facilitated the flow of people and goods; instituted layered security at air, land and seaports; developed a unified national response and recovery plan; protected critical infrastructure; integrated new technology and improved information sharing worldwide.

Ridge’s career as an elected official, cabinet secretary and citizen had many intersections with EMS providers. Those experiences informed Ridge’s remarks to the gathering of EMS physicians, researchers, educators and paramedics.

Memorable quotes from Tom Ridge on the importance of EMS

Here are four memorable quotes from Tom Ridge.

“EMS community has been and will always be a source of strength for the communities and neighborhoods you serve.”

“Two threats keep me up at night; bio and radiological events. I continue lobbying on the political and regulatory side to get work done.”

“Reimbursement (for EMS) is pretty pathetic. In this day age, you deserve more.”

“There is nothing more impactful than a group of passionate people expressing their desires, needs and legitimate expectations in the realms of regulation. Those of whom you elected will support your special interests.”

Top takeaways from NAEMSP 2019 opening keynote

Ridge’s appreciation for EMS was interwoven throughout his presentation. Here are my top takeaways from his presentation.

1. Appreciation for EMS is nurtured

Ridge described his encounters with EMS as a soldier in Vietnam, a congressman in Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania governor, secretary of Homeland Security, and as a patient who received lifesaving care. He has also participated in panels which investigated and wrote lessons learned from the Virginia Tech University shooting and Boston Marathon bombing.

Ridge’s experiences with EMS are a reminder of how important it is for EMS leaders to form and cultivate relationships with local, state and federal policy makers and politicians. Those relationships are the foundation for maintaining and increasing EMS funding, recognizing the impact of EMS, and communicating the value EMS provides.

2. Treat strangers as loved ones

Ridge was an EMS patient; an unknown person to the EMS crew who cared for him and saved his life. Ridge had a “widow maker” STEMI and is grateful to be one of the few to survive this type of heart attack. He repeatedly re-stated how much it meant to him to be a stranger that the EMS crew treated as a loved one. “My crew never gave up on me despite my heart stopping three times,” Ridge said.

3. Survivors are great EMS advocates

Ridge’s message of appreciation and admiration is similar to many sudden cardiac arrest survivors. The sudden cardiac arrest survivors in your system are potential advocates for your agency. Ridge encouraged attendees to engage those survivors, like him, to advocate for EMS by sharing their positive experiences with EMS.

4. EMS must advocate for EMS

Ridge closed his presentation with a call for EMS leaders to be more involved in advocating for their needs. Ridge observed that when “when people think of first responders, they think of police and fire. They don’t think of EMS.”

“You are a public health, public safety component,” Ridge said. “Your mission and profession are worthy of recognition and requires greater visibility at the state and federal level.”

Ridge also called on attendees to take advantage of FirstNet. Communication problems have been a common element in all of the major incident commissions in which Ridge has served.

Before a question and answer period, Ridge closed with, “EMS is hard work worth doing. You do it well.”

Top tweets from Tom Ridge speech to NAEMSP

Learn more and get involved

Learn more with these resources from EMS1:

Sudden cardiac arrest

EMS advocacy

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.