When was the last time you felt the urge to run into a burning building? What about cutting your way into a mangled car to extract an injured child after a wreck? It takes a particularly kind of person to reject self-protective responses and dive in, head first, to help others. Fortunately, our first responders – firefighters, emergency medical services (EMS) and police officers - never hesitate to do exactly that.
Firefighters and police officers have been around for centuries, but can you remember a time when no one had ever heard of a “paramedic?” Actually, it wasn’t that long ago, only about 45 years. Although there’s no officially recorded origin, the word “paramedic” can be loosely broken down to two parts. The Latin prefix, “para,” means, in this context, “apart from, or beyond,” and “medic” referring to “physician.”
The first paramedic training began in California in the mid 1960s. But in January of 1972, television producers Jack Webb and R.A. Cinader (“Dragnet,” and “Adam 12,”) helped introduce the rest of the country to the concept in a new show called, simply, “Emergency!.”
Each week, viewers rode along with a pair of fictional, Los Angeles County Station 51 firefighter paramedics named Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto, portrayed by actors Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe. Back then, firefighters were skilled in only a minimum of first aid techniques. Paramedic training allowed more advanced medical treatment for victims at the scene, when time is critical, performed at the time under the direction of a hospital physician communicating by radio.
For six seasons, using real-life, contemporary techniques, the fictional team of “Squad 51” demonstrated how vital paramedics could be to accident survival rates. Additionally, by shining some Hollywood light on the subject, the show helped ease resistance by doctors who fought the adaptation of advanced medical field support, referring to it as, “remote controlled medicine.”
Paramedics are sometimes referred to inaccurately as EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), but there are differences between the two, although regulations and educational requirements can vary. According to the University of Southern California Los Angeles’s Center for Prehospital Care, “EMTs usually complete a course that is about 120-150 hours in length. Paramedic courses can be between 1,200 to 1,800 hours.” But that’s not where the difference ends.
Both fields of study include lectures, clinical and field internships and hands-on skills training such as CPR, administering oxygen, glucose for diabetics and helping to treat asthma attacks. “With very few exceptions, such as in the case of auto-injectors for allergic reactions,” UCLA’s website states, “EMTs are not allowed to provide treatments that require breaking the skin: that means no needles.”
At the time of the “Emergency!” TV series, Los Angeles County, had only about 36 paramedics. But after the show became a hit, applications came pouring in anywhere the programs were offered. As of 2012, StudentDoctor.net reports that there are an estimated 142,000 paramedics and 600,000 EMTs currently working in the United States and that number is growing. From big cities to rural communities, paramedics and EMTs are regularly in great demand.
On September 11, 2001, first responders took center stage, paramedics included, with hundreds giving their lives trying to save the victims of the World Trade Center attacks. Hopefully, our local fire and rescue personnel will never be required to perform such a dire duty, but you can rest assured that if the need would ever arise, they are ready and willing.
I can’t convey how grateful my family was to the men and women of our local EMS (New Jasper Township, in Greene County, Ohio) when I was helping to care for my mother who, in addition to Alzheimer’s disease, also suffered from heart disease. Our emergency medical responders see us at the most difficult, stressful moments of life. So, since we often forget at the time, “Thank You,” from a grateful public to our fire and EMS providers, for all you do to help keep us safe.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer based in Jamestown. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.