Providing emergency medical care is a significant component of the fire and emergency service’s mission. Despite the prominent role EMS plays in fire departments, Lifepaks and syringes often are replaced with pike poles and ladders when the public conjures up images of firefighters. Correcting this misperception is critically essential for fire departments to continue receiving vital federal assistance and funding.
Within the federal government, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has the important mission of tracking the employment rates across occupational fields. The BLS’ data are used to develop a number of government policies, including grant funding and emergency planning. When it comes to counting how many people work in each field, the BLS sends uses surveys where individuals select the employee classification that best describes their position. When it comes to fire and EMS, respondents must self-identify as either an EMS provider or a firefighter. The BLS’ survey fails to recognize dual-role firefighter/EMTs and firefighter/paramedics.
On October 13, Representatives Susan Wild (D-PA) and Fred Keller (R-PA) introduced the EMS Counts Act (H.R. 8592)
. This bill directs the BLS to create new sub-categories within the “Firefighter” employment series to allow respondents to identify as a “Firefighter/EMT” or “Firefighter/Paramedic.” This flexibility will improve the BLS’ tracking of the number of EMS providers in the U.S., regardless of whether they also serve as firefighters.
A recent example of the importance of this change can be seen when the BLS’ data on EMS providers was used by the National Academy of Medicine to estimate how many COVID-19 vaccines would be needed for first responders. An undercount of EMS providers could lead to an insufficient number of vaccines. Thankfully in this case, all firefighters (regardless of whether they are EMS providers) were included in the highest priority tier alongside single-role EMS providers. However, had this estimate relied solely on the BLS’ estimated number of EMS personnel, there would have been a shortage of vaccines.
EMS is just as intrinsically tied to the fire and emergency service as hazmat and tech rescue. If the federal government is to develop effective plans and policies, accurate data is needed. The IAFC urges Congress to pass the EMS Counts Act and ensure federal policymakers recognize the immense role that firefighters play in providing pre-hospital emergency medical care.
Evan Davis is a strategic government relations manager for the IAFC.