Emergency Medical Services: What`s In a Name?

A name defines who we are, and in fire and EMS, we use all kinds of names. There are names that include fire departments, fire and EMS departments, fire rescue, departments of public safety, safety services departments, fire protection districts, rescue squads and ambulance services, and I know of at least one Department of EMS and Fire.

Put the word "volunteer" in front of any of these, and we can quickly see how many different names we use to describe, generally speaking, the same service.

Then, we get into position-specific names. Most of the time the word "chief" means the top of the organization, but after that, it can be anyone's guess. We have deputy chiefs, directors, assistant chiefs (to include 1st and 2nd), district chiefs, colonels, majors, division chiefs, battalion chiefs, driver/operators, company officers, lieutenants, captains, sergeants, chauffeurs, engineers, EMTs, paramedics and medics, and the list goes on.

Firefighter is really the only other name that easily identifies what that position does.

Depending on where you're located, some of these names may be common and others may be foreign to you, but again, we can probably figure out what a position does.

However, that isn't always the case in our profession; an excellent example is the designation Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

The Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC) has established professional designations for several key fire and EMS leadership positions. These include chief fire officer (CFO), fire marshal (FM), chief training officer (CTO) and CMO. While the first three are self-explanatory, the chief medical officer name isn't always quite as clear, even though it was designed for the EMS professional.

Since its inception in 2008, fewer than 100 people have attained the CMO designation. When we look at the number of people involved in EMS, this didn't make a lot of sense and the CPSE wondered why.

So last fall, as the EMS representative on the CPC, I was tasked with reviewing the program to learn how more people might pursue the designation. Using a business model that evaluated all aspects of the designation, I began asking EMS industry leaders what their impression was of the CMO designation.

Overwhelmingly, the consistent message that I received back was that the name Chief Medical Officer isn't indicative of what a person in that position does. We're in the business of EMS, and while there are some agencies that use the CMO name to designate their EMS chief, most actually incorporate "EMS" into the position name. Additionally, the designation CMO is more often used to indicate a senior physician or doctor who's in charge of a program or department within a hospital or public-health system. Simply put, CMO is not a good representation of the EMS chief.

Using this feedback as well as looking at the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education model for EMS, the decision was made to propose changing the name of the designation from Chief Medical Officer to Chief EMS Officer (CEMSO). Earlier this year, this proposal was presented to the CPSE board of directors who unanimously approved the change, and the formal announcement was made in May during EMS Week 2012.

So far, CPSE has received a number of positive comments on this change, with almost all of them stating that this is now a more accurate descriptor of the EMS chief position. Time will tell if this change encourages more people to apply for this designation, but I believe it's a step in the right direction to further move EMS from a trade to a profession. Would you rather be called an ambulance driver or chief EMS officer? It really is about the name.

Norris W. Croom III, EFO, CEMSO, is the deputy chief of operations for the Castle Rock (Colo.) Fire and Rescue Department. He's been a member of the EMS Section since 1998 and currently serves as the section's director at large and as the EMS representative on the CPSE Commission on Professional Credentialing.

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