Guest Editorial

EMS Week 2017: What it means to be 'Always in Service'

"Always in Service" is the theme for the 2017 EMS Week, an annual celebration and recognition of EMS providers.

Here's what I think "Always in Service" means to EMS organizations and individual EMS providers.


24/7 response capabilities

EMS agencies — paid or volunteer, public or private — are always available to the communities they serve.

EMS as an organization, entity or profession has made a 24/7 commitment to the citizens and visitors in their response area.

Readiness for any type of patient, simultaneous single patient incidents or mass casualty incidents is at the core of our existence.

Reliability, availability and preparedness create challenges and opportunities. EMS is always in service because it has become a health care safety net for millions of people who access care by calling 911 when they actually need non-emergent care.

EMS agencies are also capitalizing on their constant availability and ubiquitous presence to expand services with community paramedic initiatives.


Off-duty response to emergencies

Our willingness to come to the aid of our families, friends, neighbors and strangers, even when we are officially off duty, makes us always in service. EMS providers, because of their training and ability to take command in the midst of chaos, go in service when off duty.

We answer the call when the flight attendant announces a medical emergency on our spring break flight. We are the first to stop at a crashed vehicle on the roadside or to begin CPR when an athlete collapses during a game or to recognize an ill juror while testifying.


Go out and service regularly and often

"Always in Service" when applied at the individual provider level is troubling and potentially dangerous.

EMS can quickly be all-consuming. Many EMS providers work two or three jobs and leave one job just to drive and start their next shift at a neighboring agency. Or they leave their EMS job, but are still an on-call with a volunteer agency for the few hours they might have at home.

Volunteering for overtime shifts and mandated holdovers can increase work hours well beyond 50 hours per week.

A two-week paycheck with 30, 40 or more hours of overtime might be a nice boost to your bank account and even a badge of honor, but the mental and physical toll of being always in service is not without risk.

Being always in service — never going out of service — as an individual EMS provider, whether physically or metaphorically, puts you at high risk for burnout, fatigue-caused errors and career dissatisfaction. Regularly going out of service is necessary for your own physical and mental health.

Time off from EMS can help strengthen relationships with your friends and family. Sleep and pursuit of other interests and hobbies gives you the regular restoration needed for a long EMS career.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is Editor-in-Chief of He is an educator, author, paramedic and marathon runner.

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