Emergency Medical Services: "This Is How We Do"

While I borrowed my title from a Katy Perry song, I'm not a singer or lyricist nor do I pretend to be one, and this article is not about singing. It's about teams and teamwork, and, like Katy, we're only as successful as our weakest link.

Her success is based on her team, which includes songwriters, musicians, producers, publicists and the like. Our success is based on our line personnel, vehicle technicians, finance, IT and administration, and the list goes on. This is how we do.

Unlike our law-enforcement partners, everything we do in EMS and fire is centered on a team effort. While law-enforcement officers often operate independently on the street, answering calls and in their offices, we can't go to the grocery store without our teammates.

In my opinion, that's a good thing, because we can't successfully do our jobs alone. Try putting out a house fire by yourself. Better yet, work a cardiac arrest by yourself: see how long you last and how successful you are.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but we sometimes get so wrapped up in the business of things that we forget the basics.

One of the best examples of teamwork in EMS is pit-crew management of cardiac arrests. Just as each member of a NASCAR racing-team pit crew has a specific assignment and task, so do pit-crew responders to the scene of a cardiac arrest.

One member is the team leader who remains in charge the entire time. Another member is assigned to the patient's head area and is responsible for the airway, while the two remaining members are assigned to the right and left sides of the patient. The right side starts the assessment and compressions, while the left side operates the AED/monitor and switches off on compressions every two minutes.

The team can be expanded as additional responders arrive, and everyone knows their assignment ahead of time. This model is an efficient use of resources that maximizes the opportunity to save the patient—or in NASCAR's case, win the race.

To be successful, though, you can't just throw this team together and expect it to function overnight. You have to train and educate team members and you have to provide them with the right resources.

Teams need to practice, be comfortable with each other and know each other's limitations. Once they know their weaknesses, they'll know what to focus on and how to improve their performance. This all takes time and patience.

It began the day you entered EMT school or the academy and it will end, to a degree, the day you retire. You have been and will continue to be a member of a team in the greatest profession there is. There's no greater privilege than serving humankind and knowing you're making a difference.

Sometimes, the outcome is not what we desire, but it's not for a lack of proper preparation. And we haven't done it alone, for this is how we do.

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