During Ferguson crisis vision statement was foundation for successful leadership

As the crisis unfolded Christian Hospital EMS personnel knew who they were, what to do, and how to get it done


In August of 2014, Christian Hospital EMS (CHEMS) was thrust into the international spotlight as the events of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson Mo. unfolded. For the next 19 days, our department stood tall right in the middle of the rioting, looting and assaults on our ambulances.

In November 2014, in anticipation of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, CHEMS was hoping for the best, but preparing for another round of the worst. In the hours leading up to the grand jury’s decision, many family, friends and EMS peers offered well wishes, prayers, and words of encouragement on social media sites. This was a great feeling of support to say the least; my posted response was:

“Thank you so very much for all your well wishes last evening. It’s our duty to serve our citizens, and I’m thankful to have a group of professionals that make my job easy. We have four goals during this crisis. First, go home at the end of shift, second deliver the very best patient care, third, be leaders in our community, and last be role models for our career field.”

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Let’s break down how this vision statement was the foundation for our leadership.

Go home at the end of shift

As an EMS leader, the worst thing ever would be making that horrible trip to someone’s home with a notice of an employee injury or worse – a line of duty death. To be honest, this is something most EMS leaders do not prepare for. So, to ensure we did not have to make that dreaded trip, it was the commitment of the leadership team to ensure everyone went home at the end of the shift. It was paramount to ensure our crews were not placed into any situation that would cause them harm.

During the August and November events, on several occasions we declined sending ambulances into areas deemed as “hot zones.” For improved safety of our personnel we obtained body armor, helmets, gas masks, and protective eyewear. Lessons from the August event reminded us that these pieces of equipment might be needed. We were not taking any chances when it came to their personal safety of our workforce.

Deliver the very best patient care

During this crisis, there were personal feelings about both sides of the incident. Sometimes, these feelings would cause heated debate and intense discussions. Part of the department’s vision statement says we will be dedicated to clinical excellence, while delivering the best patient care possible. To stay true to this statement, the workforce needed to remember that everyone received the same care regardless of the 'side’ they were on.

When we think of those looting, rioting and assaulting in our community it could be a personal challenge to deliver the highest quality of patient care possible. Regardless of beliefs, we did not want to compromise our vision’s integrity and to be a positive resource for all patients.

Be leaders in our community

As EMS providers, we are in the constant view of the communities we serve. Ensuring we are there for our citizens for the emergencies and during the good times as well is an important component of our department’s identity. CHEMS takes a strong position to ensure we represent our organization, department, and each other with respect, loyalty and dedication to those we serve.

Christian Hospital has been part of the Ferguson community for more than 100 years; these are our neighbors, and we needed to show our continued positive presence. Ensuring we looked professional, kept the trucks cleaned and assisted with whatever the community needed was of highest concern for the entire workforce. When the rioting was at its worse, we approached our duty with professionalism, commitment, and dedication, making our community proud.

Leaders for our career field

We have all seen those negative stories that give our career field a black eye. With the world watching, we wanted to ensure that the EMS profession was seen in a positive light. The guidance we gave our workforce was, whether you see the camera or not, conduct yourself with the highest level of integrity and do not compromise your career field’s image.

Remembering the very first day of this crisis; there were armored vehicles in the streets, with a hundred or so police, fire and tactical members. Adding to this growing crisis, there were news cameras everywhere, and about 150 to 200 protesters that filled the area. This was truly a powder keg ready to explode.

As I joined a group of CHEMS personnel, they appeared tense and worried. As those in EMS often do, there were jokes, smiles and humor to detract from the worry and fear. Very quickly it became important for us to share our experience. The world was watching and we needed to set the example for others to follow. From that point forward the focus was to ensure CHEMS, and EMS as a whole, was seen as nothing but competent, professional and there to serve.

CHEMS is a department that lives its vision statement everyday. This was a crisis with tons of lessons to learn, but no lesson was bigger than this; since everyone already shared the same vision we had the foundation to communicate the expectations, plans, and direction that was vital for the success of this mission. As the crisis, unfolded the entire department knew who they were, what to do, and how to get there.

What is your department's vision statement?

Every EMS department should have a vision statement. This should be the foundational philosophy for everything your agency does. Ensure everyone knows the vision statement from the top down. If your leadership team does not know the vision statement, why should your workforce? Having a strong dedication and belief in the department’s vision will ensure that when your crisis happens, your workforce will be ready to deliver the best patient care, be leaders in the community and role models for the career field.

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