A Formal Affair: EMS is ready to dress up

By EMS1.com Staff

Remember when garbage men became sanitation engineers?  Their perception of themselves changed, and it forced society's perception to change as well.

The same thing is happening in the world of EMS.  No longer do EMTs think of themselves as just ambulance drivers; they are prehospital care providers and more. The understanding that perception is reality has not been lost on the industry, and there has been a growing movement to incorporate a sophisticated dress uniform program into EMS culture.

Although EMS has always been characterized by independence, there is also the desire among many to join firefighters and police at the 'head table' of the emergency service world. And there’s no doubt that adopting a more professional look can be very beneficial as EMS is increasingly forced to compete for funding.

Recognizing this direction and desire several years ago, national EMS leadership, including Jim Allen, John Roquemore, Ken Bouvier and John Fitzsimmons, began to explore the viability of an EMT Class 'A' Dress Uniform.

The group wasn’t just looking for a durable and good-looking uniform but one that could denote an EMT’s level of experience.

The idea was long overdue, according to JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman.

Fire departments and the military have long had standard dress uniforms that are so well established, even the public recognizes them, Heightman said. EMS, on the other hand, had nothing to distinguish itself and needed something formal to wear for ceremonies and events, like parades.

"EMS for the longest time did not have a special dress uniform," Heightman said. "It makes a big impression."

One of the first companies to put together an EMS dress uniform program was Lighthouse Uniform Company, headed up by President Steve Cohen.

"The thinking was, 'If you want to sit at the head table, you needed to dress like you belonged there,'" Cohen said. 

After numerous discussions Cohen presented the NAEMT leadership with the new EMT Class ‘A’ Dress Uniform (see related article in the March 2005 issue of JEMS.) The uniform, appropriate for parades, funerals, award ceremonies and other events, is a black, double-breasted wool blend and features sleeve striping and "Stars of Life" to denote years of service.

"I think what has really happened is their perception of themselves has changed and they wanted to reflect that," Cohen said. "A dress uniform is really an effective vehicle in creating separation between yourself and the guy next to you."

The EMT world has just celebrated its 25th year.  It is beginning to dress up. 

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