How off-duty decisions can kill your career

Your life as an EMS provider goes on even when the uniform comes off, and the consequences of poor decisions can forever alter your future

Updated July 1, 2014

Like it or not, the individuals rolling past in an ambulance, squad, chase car, fire engine, or truck are role models for the impressionable citizens who gaze in awe as you pass. You know it is true, because you feel their eyes on you as you whiz by ... and you get a tingle of pride (or something) every time.

Whatever the reason, more is expected of EMS providers and when things go sideways, the consequences tend to be greater. For EMS providers, one unfortunate decision can forever alter a future, end a career, and diminish to nothing the value of a life's work.

I have found that, in general, most providers recognize what is at stake on the job and most function within the boundaries.

On the job, that is.

Off-duty decisions 

My practice continues to prosper on the indiscretions of providers who make those bad choices when they are off duty and away from work.

For most of society, simply being arrested for things like petty theft, public drunkenness, assault, battery, urinating in public, possession of marijuana, even DUI has little, if any, impact on the long term. Most never report it to their employer or tell anyone outside their own social circle. The incident is dealt with quietly in the background of life and, in many instances, never materializes into something life-altering.

EMS providers, on the other hand, have much more to consider. Even an arrest can be the end of you. Employers have rigid reporting standards, which can create the proverbial catch-22. Failure to report is terminable; reporting leads to suspension, internal investigation into your external life, and possibly termination — either way, you lose. Then, licensing and certifying agencies have character guidelines and, in many instances, receive notification of the arrest automatically from the arresting agency.

In California, for instance, the EMS Authority can, depending on the charge, suspend your paramedic license immediately followed by a potentially lengthy state investigation to determine whether your license should be revoked outright. Of course, the state will inform your employer of the temporary license suspension and Pandora's box is open. Oh, and don't forget the Motor Vehicle Department. That otherwise easily resolved first DUI has devastating consequences for your commercial driver's license, the one that allows you to operate the emergency vehicle ... which you have to report to your employer and possibly to the licensing agency. And you have not even had a single court appearance yet, much less been convicted.

The long and short of it all is that your life as an EMS provider goes on even when the uniform comes off. The standards that make you special in the eyes of a grateful community are those that can and will strip you of everything for violating their trust.

About the author

David Givot, Esq., graduated from the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care (formerly DFH) in June 1989 and spent most of the next decade working as a Paramedic responding to 911 in Glendale, CA, with the (then BLS only) fire department. By the end of 1998, he was traveling around the country working with distressed EMS agencies teaching improved field provider performance through better communication and leadership practices. David then moved into the position of director of operations for the largest ambulance provider in the Maryland. Now, back in Los Angeles, he has earned his law degree and is a practicing Defense Attorney still looking to the future of EMS. In addition to defending EMS Providers, both on the job and off, he has created as a vital step toward improving the state of EMS through information and education designed to protect EMS professionals - and agencies - nationwide. David is a member of the EMS1 Editorial Advisory Board. David can be contacted via e-mail at

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