Trending Topics

Chief Insights: ‘Staying stagnant is easy; change is hard’

Pittsburgh EMS Chief Amera Gilchrist shares the progressive plan she fervently believes will reduce staffing challenges


Photo/Pittsburgh Bureau of EMS

The following content is part of EMS1’s EMS Leader Playbook – aimed at helping new EMS leaders increase their effectiveness, enhance their leadership KSAs, develop trust among crewmembers, and build confidence. Through a handful of questions presented by EMS1, veteran chiefs reflect on their early days in leadership roles and offer advice, while newer leaders detail their experiences taking on a new position. Email to offer your insights for the EMS Leader Playbook.

In this installment of Chief Insights, we feature Amera Gilchrist, Chief of Pittsburgh EMS.

The spark: What put you on the path to becoming a chief?

One day on my way home from work (I worked for a bank) I was on the bus with my then 3-year-old Autistic son. He was fussy, so I reached into my purse and gave him a piece of candy. After a couple of seconds, he became completely quiet. Unbeknownst to me, he was choking on the candy.

In a panic, I picked him up and began screaming for help. A coworker on the bus told me to put him down. I inadvertently sat him down hard enough that the candy popped out of his mouth.

I beat myself up for weeks because I didn’t know what to do. I promised myself that I’d never be caught in that position again.

Shortly after that incident, I began EMT training and subsequently obtained my paramedic certification. During a clinical rotation at an emergency room, I met a City of Pittsburgh paramedic and asked him how I would go about getting hired with the City. He gave me John Moon’s (an original Freedom House member) contact information. I set up an in-person meeting with him the next day and was soon hired by the City.

Throughout my years with the City and with each promotion, my ambition to become chief of the bureau grew exponentially. There were many roadblocks, but along the way, previous chiefs who witnessed my work ethic and my dedication continued to allow my star to rise.

Look ahead: What’s something you want to accomplish as chief?

You know that saying, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”? Well, that sort of rings true with me right now. I look at some of the deficiencies within our bureau and I want to fix everything right now. Realistically, I know that won’t happen.

So, first and foremost is the need to get help for our crews. Pittsburgh EMS is facing the same staffing shortages that many EMS agencies nationwide are facing. In 2017, our bureau began hiring EMTs, but since then, most of the EMTs have been promoted to paramedics, leaving our BLS contingent deficient in numbers.

I would like to open an EMT academy so incoming employees are not mandated to be certified before hire. I fervently believe this will aid in our current staffing challenges.

How will you create an organizational culture that people want to be a part of?

The most important thing a leader can do is listen. A leader must grow with the organization, the culture and the generation. Staying stagnant is easy; change is hard. But it’s so necessary for a leader because they must guide that change.

How are you going to support and stand up for your personnel?

I will walk the talk that I give.

How do you demonstrate servant leadership?

I would never ask personnel to do something that I wouldn’t do or haven’t done.

Leadership lightning round

What is a leadership book, podcast or seminar you’ve found invaluable? “No Bullsh!t Leadership,” by Martin G. Moore.

If you knew the budget request would be approved, what’s a big purchase you’d make for your department today? A new ambulance fleet.

How do you recharge/improve your resiliency? My favorite thing in the whole world is to sleep.

Read next: Chief Insights: Strengthening the bonds within the membership