6 essential roles of the EMS company officer

Empower through responsibility and invest through insight in your supervisory staff and company culture

Lieutenant, crew lead, captain, senior medic – they’re all titles floating around the EMS community – but what do these titles really entail?

For some agencies, they’re exactly that; titles. For others, however, they signify accomplishment, accountability, responsibility and investment within the organization.

Those in the fire service, or military for that matter, are accustomed to rank and structure in their daily work life. One does not simply overstep his or her company officer to go straight to a chief officer unless there’s an emergent issue a superior needs to address. There’s a chain-of-command ... a structure ... a flow.

Quite honestly, many EMS agencies are lacking this chain of command (and it shows!).

Yes, there’s an EMS director or chief sitting at the top of the food chain in every organization (or at least I hope there is), but considering all of the many facets that compose running an EMS agency, all of these roles can’t simply sit in the hands of one individual. There needs to be delegation.

Organizations like the National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA) have recently introduced credentials that recognize the background and abilities of such supervisory, managing and executive paramedic officers, just like the National Fire Academy and many state fire service entities have done for fire officers. Some private training companies and thought-provokers within our industry have even developed courses and workshops to address this paradigm shift.

Implement EMS training for officers in these skills

Creating a certification or credential is one way to address this need within our industry, and so is building a training program to introduce and implement it as part of your agency’s culture.

Identifying a training need as an EMS company officer can be accomplished in many ways. Programs can reflect existing courses that focus on incident management, incorporate leadership development and can even slide-in some basic-level management curriculum. In order to build this type of program, however, we need to look at the roles of an EMS company officer (which can certainly differ slightly in each organization):

1. Command

One of the strongest attributes of the fire service, and fire-based EMS for that matter, is their chain-of-command.

Now, having a command presence is by no means synonymous with micromanagement. In any working environment – especially an emergency scene – there needs to be a clear path for:

  • Communications
  • Logistics
  • Triage
  • Staging
  • Oversight
  • Overall EMS operations.

This is where the EMS company officer can step in.

EMS company officers don’t necessarily need to be in their own SUV hidden at an intersection down the street. They can be “ordinary” field providers. In any event, someone still needs to be in charge, someone needs to take command and someone still needs to provide daily oversight.

2. Oversight

Your director, chief, field training officer, medical director or compliance officer can’t be on-duty or in the field every day, but an EMS company officer can. Acting in an oversight role provides continued direction for the agency when administrative staff can’t be present (or don’t need to be present). Company officers can resolve clinical issues immediately, or document them accordingly and notify the next person in line to handle these events; acting as a resource.

3. Resource

This isn’t to say that only older providers can be company officers, but it does imply that those filling this role should be a wealth of knowledge. Whether it’s knowing the agency’s historical perspective, having greater insight into the system as a whole or simply having more of a clinical background in the agency’s scope of practice, company officers should be seen as a resource – a “go-to person” that can either provide an answer, or knows where to find an answer. They can help to guide you, like a mentor.

4. Mentor

Another component to the resource role is the drive to set up others for success. Being a mentor to an individual, a crew or an entire on-duty shift is a powerful responsibility. Having a command presence demands authority; being a mentor earns respect.

5. Advocate

For instances where there’s an oversight issue, or a clinical clarification is needed, someone needs to close the communication loop to provide follow up, or advocacy, for the crews as a whole. Company officers need to act as a buffer – a middleman – when it comes to the relationship between line staff and administration. They need to act, at least in theory, like our elected representatives ... our advocates.

6. Partner

At the end of the day, a company officer not only needs to be seen as a resource and mentor, but also as an equal; as a partner. They need to be clinically competent, skilled in their trade and cognizant of the agency’s operations. When push comes to shove, they need to be able to step in right next to you (not over you) to do the same job ... to walk in your shoes right alongside you.

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