EMS Today 2020 Quick Take: The strength within us

Advancing the profession is a job for every EMT and paramedic, and can be achieved through shared knowledge


Rom Duckworth is an international leader in emergency services education. A career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator for Ridgefield (Connecticut) Fire Department and founder of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine, he presented the keynote address at EMS Today 2020.
Rom Duckworth is an international leader in emergency services education. A career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator for Ridgefield (Connecticut) Fire Department and founder of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine, he presented the keynote address at EMS Today 2020.

TAMPA, Fla. — International leader in emergency services education Rommie Duckworth, career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator for Ridgefield (Connecticut) Fire Department and founder of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine, presented the opening keynote session at EMS Today 2020.

A recipient of the American Red Cross Hero award, Sepsis Alliance Sepsis Hero award, and the EMS 10 Innovators award, Rom is currently a regular columnist for EMS1 and FireRescue1.

In Rom Duckworth's keynote address, titled, “The Strength Within Us,” Duckworth tackled how to unlock the mental, physical and emotional strength within each of us when we need it most. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)
In Rom Duckworth's keynote address, titled, “The Strength Within Us,” Duckworth tackled how to unlock the mental, physical and emotional strength within each of us when we need it most. (AP Photo/Josh Edelson)

In his keynote address, titled, “The Strength Within Us,” Duckworth tackled how to unlock the mental, physical and emotional strength within each of us when we need it most.

Top quotes on advancing EMS

Here are some of the quotes that stood out from Duckworth’s address.

“We do [EMS] because we believe this has value, and yet we still undervalue it.”

“When you move your service forward, you’ve moved our profession forward.”

“Emergency care; we do both, the emergency and the care.”

“There is a fragility in ‘I’ and ‘me,’ there is a strength in ‘us’ as the global EMS community.”

“Transforming EMS will require us to do things like we’ve never done before as we move from skills-driven trade to science-driven care.”

Takeaways on the future of EMS

“Whatever color uniform we wear, we share both the satisfaction and the burden of serving those in our communities,” Duckworth shared. “And, when we feel that we don’t have the strength to stand alone, we’ll find the strength in ‘us’ as a family of emergency responders and healthcare providers working to care for our patients, our communities, and each other.”

Here are three takeaways from the keynote address at EMS Today.

1. Underscore the value of EMS with your actions

Duckworth shared a particular call that had an impact on his career. The patient, an older gentleman, was experiencing shortness of breath. Duckworth noted it was all he and his partner could do to maintain oxygen saturation. As they attempted to turn things around, he noted he was looking outside the ambulance to see how close they were to the hospital – a feeling he rarely experienced. Upon arrival, the hospital team continued to struggle to right the patient’s decline. In speaking to the patient’s wife, Duckworth prepared her by explaining that despite their best efforts, things did not look good.

The patient died the next evening. Duckworth knows this, because the wife wrote a letter to the station, explaining how the crew’s compassion impacted her in this tragic time. She wrote that so much of the sting is taken out of a terrible event like this when you have no doubt everyone involved did everything they could. She noted their kindness was an incredible gift she would never forget.

Whether you realize it or not, each one of you has a story like this, Duckworth said. “We don’t always get the letter,” but each call provides the opportunity to impact the patient and their loved ones with your behavior. 

“That is the strength within us. We don’t just run calls, we help people, we serve communities and we help families, and there is nothing more important in the world than that,” he stressed.

2. EMS can’t remain fractured, fragmented and isolated

Duckworth pointed to the goals of the EMS Agenda 2050 and the need to come together and collaborate – EMTs and paramedics, career and volunteer – to rise to the challenge. “If we can’t get it together, other people are going to be making decisions about how we do what we do.”

To that end, advancing the profession is a job for everyone, not just the educators, the chiefs, or the “white shirts,” he said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We have a lot of the answers.”

Duckworth asked who in the audience has implemented a community paramedicine program, has a successful recruitment and retention program, has improved neurological outcomes after cardiac arrest, is using pre-hospital point-of-care ultrasound in their services, and encouraged attendees to learn from each other.

“If it exists in EMS, there’s someone who has it and wants to share it, or there are people who are working hard to make it a reality,” he said.

3. Keep earning your patch

Despite the hundreds of bones you learned in anatomy classes, there are only 4 you need to be concerned about in EMS, Duckworth noted:

  • The wishbones who do nothing more than wish
  • The jawbones who talk and talk about what they’re going to do
  • The knuckle bones who knock down anyone who’s going to try something new
  • The backbones who do whatever it takes to raise the organization up

Duckworth issued attendees a challenge to be the self-selected backbone of their organization, and continue to improve on every level, whether it’s to reduce deaths from trauma, improve resuscitation rates, improve time to treatment or to continue learning.

Educators have let you think that the day you’ve passed your exams you’ve earned that patch, he said. But you need to earn that patch each and every day. Learn, share with others, move your service forward, and you’ve moved our profession forward, he said.

Duckworth takes his inspiration from Judo founder and master, Kano Jigoro, who was buried not in his black belt, to signify his achievements, but in his white belt, to signify that he remained always a student of his art.  

Additional resources on advancing EMS

Learn more about advancing EMS and be the backbone of your organization with these resources from EMS1:

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