August 26, 2021 | View as webpage


At the start of the month, as COVID cases were again steadily climbing in cities across the country, EMS leaders met in Phoenix for the 2021 Pinnacle EMS conference. Major discussion topics were retention, recruitment, health and wellness and of course the ongoing impact of COVID-19. Rob Lawrence, a Pinnacle presenter, shares top takeaways from leaders he spoke with on the event’s final day for this issue of the Paramedic Chief Leadership Briefing.  

Mandating vaccination was also a top discussion topic at Pinnacle. In the two weeks since the conference has ended the American Paramedic Association, National EMS Management Association, National Association of EMS Physicians, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs have come out in favor of vaccine mandates for EMS providers. In addition, the FDA has given full approval to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. But sadly, we continue to receive news of EMT, paramedic, and firefighter COVID deaths while many continue to fight against and refuse vaccination.  

Though Pinnacle showed me that EMS is more stressed than it has ever been, I left hopeful about the future of EMS knowing that there are so many leaders passionate about the future of our profession and dedicated to solving the pressing challenges we face.  

Stay healthy, 

— Greg Friese, MS, NRP 
Editorial Director, EMS1


Turning learning into action: Leaders' top takeaways from Pinnacle 2021
By Rob Lawrence 

Chiefs, on return from a conference or industry event, do you pass on the lessons learned? Or do you ask attending staff to present to those that did not attend, so all can benefit? While everyone dreads speaking on the final session of any conference, I gladly took the last agenda slot at Pinnacle 2021 and used the time and leaders present to answer a simple question, “What did you take away from this year’s Pinnacle?” Here is what they said. 

Recruiting and Retention 

Don Deardorff, Director of Operations of West York Ambulance, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of the 2021 Ambulance Service Manager program, developed a takeaway list of ideas on recruitment and retention which may be of use to others. Deardorff noted the need, particularly with the current COVID-induced educational pressures, to bring EMT and paramedic programs in-house and developing an ‘earn while you learn’ program providing an income as students gain knowledge and clinical experience. To retain staff, Deardorff’s list offers sound advice for any organization: 

  • A good reputation. 

  • A clean and well-kept facility. 

  • Management with an open-door policy. 

  • Management recognizing good work ethic.  

  • Preparing meals and providing holiday meals. 

  • Rewarding providers who go above and beyond. 

  • Holiday pay bonuses.  

  • A culture that if you are sick, you should stay home.  

  • Downtime is the providers’ time if all charting and station duties are complete. 


Josh McGaughy, Assistant Chief at St. Charles County Ambulance District, Missouri, took away the need for organizations to establish and develop a wellness committee and accompanying programs. Programs could include yoga, strength training and meditation techniques.  

McGaughy also identified the need to look after our providers in terms of better back care. During another Pinnacle session that I facilitated, I received many knowing nods when I suggested that all tenured and senior medics can remember the call and the moment their back went or gave out.   

Jeremy McLemore from Miller EMS, Oklahoma, identified the need to develop a proactive approach, as he noted, “Lifting, no matter how many fancy devices or wild contraptions we implement, there will be no substitute for pure physical strength.” This may well be in the form of gym memberships and physical training sessions conducted both on and off duty. McLemore recommends a 45-minute pure strength training program for providers that could well reduce lifting injuries as well as improve mental health, which may well be seen as an invest money to save money program.  


Steve Brooks, EMS Analyst from Monterey County EMS Agency, California, is clear that we must not lose sight that EMS is about serving people, patients, the public and providers but we must collect the right data to drive change within our industry and systems. Brooks identifies that any visit to any locally elected officials or health system leaders must be accompanied by robust data to demonstrate both issues and solutions to those that may not share our vision.  

Steve Vardaman, Operations Manager at Eagle County Paramedic Services, Colorado, also identified that all EMS leaders must make use of deeper metrics to evaluate current deployment operations to find inefficiencies in time of day and in geographic areas 

EMS as a Profession 

Kelly Cope, CEO at St. Charles County Ambulance District, the 2021 Pinnacle Emerging EMS Leader Award winner, highlighted EMS funding and our ability to pay our providers a reasonable and living wage. Cope asked, “How do we overcome the funding model to compensate our providers at an appropriate level while still providing mobile healthcare with highly effective outcomes?” Cope’s sentiment is on point as we seek to legislate and lobby our way to a better reimbursement package from our federal funds, as well as ensure that insurance reimbursement reflects the true cost of doing business.   

Cope also centered on the ongoing requirement to coordinate our focus and message to ensure that we consolidate our voice to communicate the need to be recognized as an essential service. Cope noted, “I was addressed by a gentleman that brought my attention to the fact that we tend to refer to ourselves as an industry, not as a profession.” His point being that we sit in the house of medicine and staff the profession that is mobile healthcare as opposed to the industry of simply hauling patients from point A to B and in that, he makes an excellent point.    

I Can and I Will 

Greg Friese, EMS1 Editorial Director, noted that in his EMS Trend Report session, attendees were asked to do action planning on one of four provider safety issues by writing “I will” statements for next week, next month and next budget. Several attendees had some very specific actionable and relevant ideas. Friese wrote, “I am hopeful those attendees follow through on taking action to improve provider safety in their organization.”  

Friese also highlighted the messages of positivity and hope from Jessica Cox, Pinnacle keynote speaker, who was born without arms but is now a motivational speaker. Cox has learned to drive a car, play the piano, become a taekwondo black belt and fly a plane. Insisting that her disability will not stop her from living life to the fullest, Cox achieves by telling herself that "I can" and therein lies a lesson for us all. 

Pinnacle informs and inspires 

Pinnacle, as always, provided information, interaction, and inspiration. In the conference where faculty not only lectured but encouraged all to share lessons, problems, and solutions there was a lot to take away. Hopefully, attendees arrived back in their home locations, opened their notebooks or pads, and shared all they took away as a solution shared is a problem halved!  

Make plans now for Pinnacle 2022, July 25-29, 2022 

Additional resources:
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