Don’t let burnout ruin an exciting EMS career

If you’re new to EMS, please don’t let jaded old-timers influence your perception of what truly matters


Updated May 10, 2016

In EMS, we can see more in one shift than many people see in a lifetime.

We revive patients, deliver babies, heal wounds and witness the most dramatic moments of other people’s lives ─ sometimes their last.

EMS is an unbelievably exciting career, and to believe anything else is just plain wrong. If you are new to the profession, fasten your seatbelts; you’re in for a heck of a ride.

Please don’t let some jaded old-timer (sometimes that person can be me) who has lost the way and forgot how to get excited about this noble profession influence your perception of what truly matters.

There are those with the “been there, done that” attitude. I try to avoid those kinds of EMTs and paramedics, and do my best not to become one.

I never stopped being thrilled by the lights and sirens, the mayhem, and the life and death struggles that I was a part of. I loved every minute of it.

A different kind of excitement in EMS
Yet while the job has its magical moments, it also comes with its share of drudgery and boring routine. If you have been at it a while, it can be easy to feel beat up and let down. But hang in there. Something good is bound to happen; it always does.

Responding to emergencies isn’t for everybody, but for those of us with that calling, nothing else even comes close.

Many people on my department did their “rescue time,” got burned out and moved to the fire companies, leaving their EMS careers in a puff of smoke. I did things differently.

After 10 years riding the fire engines and ladders, I transferred to our EMS rescue division. I was looking for something exciting and fulfilling that I just wasn’t getting from fighting fires most of the time and responding to EMS calls only some of the time.

I would listen to the radio while at the station waiting for a fire, and hear our people responding to shootings and suicides, assaults, car accidents, live births and cardiac arrests.

And I would wish I was there.

A wired bunch of cast offs
I transferred to Rescue Company 1 and joined the EMS division. There were 20 of us in a department of nearly 500.

We were a wired bunch, cast offs from the fire-suppression side of the department. We were still firefighters, trained as such and experienced to some degree, but no longer assigned to the big red trucks. We packed up our turnout gear, put it in the side compartment at shift change where it usually stayed, sometimes for years.

I actually loved those little white trucks. I even loved them when they turned red, which was some knucklehead’s idea that by painting the ambulances the same color as the fire trucks people assigned to them would be more a part of the fire department.

Although we sent a fire company on the serious EMS calls ─ all of our firefighters were EMS trained ─ there were 23 fire companies and only five ambulances. So the chances of going somewhere good were far better as a full-time EMT.

I guess you could accurately label me an adrenaline junky. I lived for the worst. Knowing that I did not cause the tragedies that I responded to kept things in perspective. And since somebody had to respond, and I figured it may as well be me.

I did the job, and I did it well. Just when I thought I had seen everything, there was something new. Staffing an ambulance was the most exciting time that I spent while serving as a Providence, R.I. firefighter.

I have no regrets, and hope that people new to EMS get to experience what I did. 

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