- The Podcast
- EMS / Pre-Hospital
- Med / Primary Care
This is a guest post written by PJ Cane (@jrvrescue), a firefighter in the Washington area. To read his full guest bio, click here. _______________________________
Anyone who has done this job for more than 30 minutes has run calls with the Police. We see them on wrecks, DV calls, attempted suicides, fires, involuntary commits, intoxicated patient evals, and pretty much any calls where violence was involved in the “MOI.” But even as often as we deal with the Police, many providers don’t really “work” with them, or even understand how they (the Police) work for that matter.
Let’s take a few minutes to look at some of the differences between the Law Enforcement mindset and ours in the Fire Service.
Firstly, lets get a few things out in the open right up front. Yes, it’s true that some people become Cops because they were made fun of as kids and they want to “get back at society.” It’s also true that some people become Firefighters because they want to make $60k a year, work 8 days a month and look like (Or at least act like) a hero while doing it, all the while trying to pick up as many chicks as possible. So let’s all agree that every profession has its share of people that are in the job for the wrong reasons. With those stereotypes aside, let’s move forward.
A Chaplain in the Fire Service once explained to me what he observed to be the greatest difference in the mindset between Police Officers and Firefighters/EMS Providers.
He stated, quite simply, “When a Firefighter meets someone in a professional capacity, they hold them at the same level as anyone else they would meet. They trust them, listen to them, and respect them. They really have no reason not to. Only if that person does something to violate that, will a Firefighter distrust, dislike, or disrespect them. Police Officers on the other hand, have to approach the people they contact from a very different angle. When a Police Officer meets someone in a professional contact, they start them off at the bottom of that same scale. Police Officers instinctively are very suspicious of people, they are trained not to trust people they don’t know, people that are intoxicated or high. They have to approach people like this, it’s necessary, for them to stay safe while they deal with people. Cops and Firefighters both view their jobs as a sort of ‘problem solving’ they just start in on it differently.”
He couldn’t have had it any more right. The fundamental difference between Police Officers and Firefighters is that we approach the task of problem solving from two different angles. Bearing in mind that we are both here to accomplish the same basic goals, to protect the lives and the property of others, we (as Professionals) need to make sure we communicate with the Officers we encounter so our patients get the care and respect they deserve.
Here’s an example, PD called us to assist on an involuntary commit for a 15 y/o female that had reportedly attempted to take several bottles of pills stolen from a family member. There were pills all over the room, but evidentially none of them made it into our patient. Within the first 5 minutes on scene, while we were still trying to “talk” our patent into going rather than having to forcibly take her, the Sgt. on scene came into the room and aggressively stated, “Can you guys just get her the hell out of here? We’ve got calls holding.” As many mentally troubled people are known to do, she began screaming hysterically and throwing things. She had been “set off” by this Deputies comment. Now, being the young, aggressive, “tough guy” that I am, my first instinct was to meet this guys attitude with one of my own, which would have just made the situation worse, quickly. Instead, I stepped out of the room and talked to him quietly where no one else could hear. I told him, very calmly, “Hey bro, we need like, 5 minutes to deal with this girl. We’re gonna talk her into walking out with us and getting into the rig, that way you guys don’t have to fight with her and restrain her for us. Unless you want the paper (referring to the report for use of force).” I smiled and promised him that we’d clear out as quickly as possible. The Sgt. nodded and said, “Ok, just make it happen.” After we walked her out to the rig, the Sgt. advised me that they had been to numerous calls for this particular person and they were “glad to see her going somewhere.” At that point, I realized that in the eyes of the Police Officers on scene, she was their version of a “frequent flyer.” They view drunks and substance abusers in much the same way we view system abusers and drug seekers, they are a nuisance that wastes resources and takes you away from “real emergencies.”
As it turns out, Police Officers face the same sorts of problems we face, they get 911 calls that are unfounded too, just like we do. They deal with the same heroin addict passed out in the Wendy’s parking lot at 0400 night after night, just like we deal with the same 26 year old “abdominal pain” patient that starts asking about prescriptions pain meds before we even get the chance to say, “Hi, we’re with the Fire Department.” Police Officers get just as frustrated as we do when they hear priority calls going out, but they are stuck on a scene that needs a social worker, not Paramedics and Cops.
So the next time you’re on a scene and a Cop gives you a hard time for blocking the road with your rig, “taking too long” doing an assessment on a drunk, or “dragging your feet” on something, just remember that they are actually here to do much the same job you are, they just look at the “problem” from a different direction. If you take a few minutes to think about things from Law Enforcements point of view, you’ll probably understand why they feel the way they do. It’ll also give you a better angle to sell the Cops on what you’re doing, making things run much more smoothly for everyone.
Stay safe, and remember: if there’s violence involved in the MOI, you stage up the road until PD says “c’mon down!”
If you’d like to be featured as a guest blogger on the GenMed site, send an e-mail to jared (at) genmedshow (dot) com.