Paramedics reflect on life as a first responder
When EMS crews get dispatched to a call, there is a certain routine to the chaos
The Free Press
KINSTON, N.C. — For paramedics like Adam Parish, a slow day can turn into a fast one with just a beep of a pager.
Or, rather, a long low tone followed by a rapid series of loud unmistakable beeps that sends anyone receiving them into a frantic dash to throw on boots, grab keys and get to their ambulance and on the road as quickly as possible.
Lenoir County Emergency Services operates a total of five ambulances a day, each assigned to a different part of the county. Each of those ambulances has two EMT's or paramedics, who work one 24-hour shift every four days.
"Most of the job is waiting to hear those tones," Parish said. "We've got a district and as long we stay in that district, we can do just about anything we want. If you want to get something to eat or if I need to go shopping at Wal-Mart, I can do that. But we have to take our ambulance with us and we both have to go."
Most of the time between calls is spent at a designated station. Each of Lenoir County's five EMS districts has its own station, and Emergency Services also operates an additional station to house shift commanders and supplies needed for trucks and crews. Every two months, crews rotate stations. Beginning in June, Parish and his partner will leave their current station on U.S. 258 for a station in the Deep Run area.
"I usually watch TV or take naps," Parish said. "We are here for 24 hours. You could be busy all day, or do nothing all day and run nonstop all night, so you might as well take advantage of the downtime and get some rest so you're ready for anything."
Despite their somewhat hectic nature at the start, when EMS crews do get dispatched to a call, there is a certain routine to the chaos.
As dispatchers at the 9-1-1 center give details to EMT's, an iPad in their truck updates with address information and a GPS that can guide drivers to their calls.
"If we have trouble finding where we are going, the 9-1-1 system can use satellites to guide us in," Bryan Murphy, paramedic and shift captain, said. "They can get it down to the barn behind the house with the red mailbox, if they need to."
Calls are coded from A - E based on their severity, with E being the worst. Based on those codes and information from dispatchers, crews are able to decide if they need their lights and sirens or not.
"You'd be surprised how some people get on the road," Murphy said. "Some people will get over and let us by when we are running emergency traffic. But we've got some who won't budge. Some people know we are there and just give us the finger."
While the nature of calls can vary from minor injuries to life or death situations, once on-scene, some aspects remain constant. In the back of every ambulance is a 60-plus-pound bag EMTs carry containing everything they need to provide a variety of types of care.
When working with patients, experience and a good bedside manner is key.
Under federal laws regarding patient and care information, EMTs typically work with the minimum amount of information possible when treating patients, and knowing how to talk to a patient who might be hurt or afraid can make the job of identifying and treating a problem considerably easier.
"If you are difficult to work with, people aren't going to want to open up to you, and that makes your job harder," Parish said.
In 1974 President Gerald Ford authorized the first National EMS Appreciation Week, a tradition that has continued since.
This year's appreciation week was designated May 21 - 27, and while in Lenoir County, EMS, police and firefighters are regularly honored by lunches and other events throughout the year, but Murphy said he's not looking for a pat on the back.
"You like it when somebody appreciates you, but this is just a job. It's what I like to do," he said.
Murphy, who started working as an EMT as a volunteer in Pink Hill and transitioned into a full time paramedic, said his job isn't one that is impossible to do, but is simply better for some people than others.
"I enjoy it, you know. You're not going to make a million bucks doing this, but it's a good job," he said.
Parish said he felt the same way.
"I started this because it was an entry level way into the medical field. It's the only entry level part of the medical field where we have some autonomy," he said.
Parish is currently working to become a doctor, and said he wanted to use his paramedic experience to determine if the field was right for him.
"Some people pass out when they see a lot of blood. I didn't want to go through eight years of medical school and then learn I'm that kind of person," he said.
All told, Lenoir County Emergency Services employs 48 people, including the five ambulance crews and dispatch and support staff.