Book Excerpt: What it meant to be a part of NYC EMS

C.B. Garris takes readers inside New York City EMS and what it meant to become a "Member of the Service" in this excerpt from "PARAMEDIC: M.O.S."

This is an excerpt from "PARAMEDIC: M.O.S." by C.B. Garris.

By C.B. Garris

They wanted to know that we wanted the job. Our academy, which was situated on a military instillation, was to ensure that the job was done correctly. There was no room for margin of error, no room for second best. 

That is what made me so proud to have graduated from there. Each day began with one and a half hours of physical training including a two-mile run. We had the best instructors in the world. They were tough, the most skilled at what they did and they could read people in a way that made us want to read people like they did. 

This group of both men and women, of all different backgrounds and cultures, shared one simple bond; to be the best damn Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics that lived. There was such a sense of family, yet at the same time what preserved that family unit was each person being able to hold their own weight, act autonomously when necessary and know when and how to function as a team. There was no room for slackers and if you made it through the academy and earned your keep; you had every right to be proud of yourself, proud to wear that patch and proud of what you worked so hard for.  The academy was only the beginning.

For us it was equal to basic training. I can remember every day and that damn two-mile run – eight laps around the Heelo LZ (helicopter landing zone). You could not talk back, you could not act ignorant; what you had to do was show the instructors that you wanted it more than they loved it. PT (physical training) gave way to the showers, where we had thirty minutes to shower, shave and get prepped for six hours of didactics (classroom) work. Our medic trainee orientation group began with one hundred perspectives, we graduated a mere thirty-two; that is how rough it was. 

As the days to graduation came closer, the tenser it seemed. You never knew who was going to bow out or be asked to leave. We already came in certified, but now we had to reach for an even higher standard to make it through. From routine classroom exams to practical skills stations, Anatomy & Physiology, Pharmacology to Mega-Codes, PHTLS (Pre-hospital Trauma Life Support) to PALS (Pediatric Advanced Life Support) and CTC (Critical Trauma Care); you had a mere eleven weeks to get it right. 

It may seem like a long time, but it is not. One of those weeks was just on EVOC (Emergency Vehicles Operating Course) alone. For this we are taken out to a large, former air landing strip for 747’s where an obstacle course of cones, fake people and other objects are placed strategically. We are to navigate this course with a five-ton ambulance at the order and discretion of our instructors. If you fail, you’re out. If you fail ANY of the classroom exams or practical skills station, you may be given a chance to retest, but there is no room for second best. They wanted the best and damnit that is what we were going to give them. 

It all boiled down to something very interesting. Whereas people tend to judge on likes and dislikes, desires and fantasies, wants and want-nots; something very beautiful happened in the name of taking care of others. Each one of us that survived that academy, which remains the most memorable time in my life, were able to put all of our separations aside for our equal purpose to save lives. 

Whether a non-smoker was paired with a smoker, a male with a female, a heterosexual with someone who was homosexual, black with white, Asian with Latin, Irish with English, republican with a democrat, a Jewish person with one who is Muslim, short with tall, fitness with someone over or underweight, younger with older, none of it mattered. It is the most beautiful symphony of souls I have ever seen; to put aside all of those issues when our uniforms were donned and out units were called. 

What we deal with on a daily basis has got to be the worst thing next to war itself. Yet in a world that is often and almost always divided by opposing beliefs, acts of violence and years of traditional thinking unchanged by modern thought; we the members of NYC EMS created a world within a world to sustain life and make life exist where it should have failed. 

We all knew our jobs and we knew them well. We knew what was expected of us and that others were watching in case we lost track. We knew the dangers of what we did and got involved in. We were willing to walk into what everyone else would run from, face it and defeat it with teamwork. In those situations where death won, we hoped at the least we not only gave the individual the ability to pass with dignity and their soul with respect that if no one ever cared about them up until that day, that we did and cared for them in the nest ways possible. 

For those who had to witness either the horrible trauma of what brought us to a scene, or were just the unfortunate parties to see their friend or family suffer an acute or chronic illness or trauma, we all hoped that they could go on with their lives, relieved at least knowing that there are professional nurturers out here that bring all the tools possible to help and will try with all our hearts. 

This job is not a mechanical job. While we go into automatic mode to perform our functions, that is the combination of both professional skills and the emotional rewiring necessary to perform the tasks that our citizens and colleagues expect of us.  Most of us suffered our own personal tragedies in our younger years, which makes it possible for us to walk into hell and keep right on going, often seeming unaffected to the everyday civilian. As is very common in most of society today, I would expect that many would rather keep their personal tragedies to themselves and I respect that completely. Then there are those that have come forward with story after story of intense and extreme emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from their early years. Many saw their parents and siblings beaten, some saw them murdered. Perhaps they lost a parent, sibling or friend to natural causes or to suicide; perhaps they were raped once or repeatedly; maybe they just witnessed a horribly traumatic incident. Perhaps these individuals have had issues with alcohol, drugs, self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, sex as a form of blocking out, perhaps some of these individuals have tried to end their lives or are suicidal.  Regardless, something keeps them going and in this arena of danger.

Working for NYC EMS was some of the most fun I have ever had. The fact that we would gear up to go into the worst possible situations known to humanity and maybe ever put our own lives in extreme danger, was secondary to the feeling of being totally protected. We were what 911 was all about. We are the ones that go into deal with hell and we have as much backup as the U.S. military.

One phrase over one of our radio frequencies or a push of our emergency buttons on our radios or from the mobile data terminal, and we can light up a city block causing heavily armed police officers and S.W.A.T. teams to come screaming to our rescue. We were NYC EMS. 

With all that safety built in, it made it easy to perform our tasks and enjoy our work even more. We patrol the streets waiting for a call or getting flagged down for one. I laughed harder with my partners than with anyone else. Whether it was about one of our comical calls when everything went totally backwards, or some superior officer showed up on a call and embarrassed himself or herself completely, despite our efforts to save them from embarrassment. We never knew what would happen next. We relied on each other, even more so than a child to a parent. We were with each other eight to sometimes sixteen hours a day. We were there if we had good days or bad, lots of sleep or none, a full meal or if we were working without having eaten. If our finances got out of hand or beyond us, we bought each other dinner and never let another go hungry or unfed. We always tried to make sure that our partner was having a great day and if not we would try to find a way to help them.   

If they wanted space and quiet to think, they got it. If they wanted to read our paper, it was theirs. If they were moving from apartment to apartment, or for the few that could afford a house, we were there to pick up each sofa and chair. If in the course of our duty, one of us as injured and possibly killed, we wanted to know that everything would be done to save the other or at least help us die with dignity and love. 

Pretty tall order?  Not really and in fact in came pretty simple. We didn’t care what you did in your off time or what kind of car you drove. We didn’t care if you were Harvard educated or a master of the G.E.D.; as long as you could be part of the team you were a Member of the Service. 


©2015 C.B. Garris

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About the author:
C. B. Garris is an EMS paramedic/first responder, firefighter and emergency management specialist; consultant/expert and a former member of NYC EMS; and whose career spans 28 years in emergency services. A New York City native, he served as an Assistant Watch Commander/Senior Emergency Management Specialist and Operations Resource Coordinator in the 9-1-1 Command and Control Division, coordinating tactical operations. He was the EMS logistical resource coordinator for the original terrorist bombing attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, an instructor at the UCLA Medical Center/Center for Prehospital Care, an emergency management/dive rescue coordinator to the motion picture industry, and is a clinical regulatory/biomedical specialist in emergency medicine, tactical/urban combat medicine and advanced resuscitation.

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