EMS Today: What Gets You Through Your Shift?

Be it 12 hour shifts or a 24 hour tour of duty, we all have a little group of things we can’t do without. Today’s generation of Emergency Medical Services workers list things from the very basic human comfort needs to the (almost) posh. It’s a sign of the times, really … our world is in a constant state of flux, and that holds just as true for the EMS industry. Our jumpkits have grown larger and more specific.

Eons ago, when I started as a medic, my go-to duty kit was very simple:  change of uniform, extra undergarments (socks, especially), a small stash of protein-rich granola bars, an extra bottle of water or two, and err, some spare feminine products. Just in case. Maybe even some extra batteries for my work pager (yes, we still carried pagers; that was during the days they dispatched you to an address, you wrote it down on a piece of 2-inch tape on your pants, and drove there. No GPS.).

Curious, I drove around and asked some peers that were not only station-based, but system status management units as well, what was essential to surviving their shifts? What was, in our nanosecond, gotta-have-it-right-now-world, the top thing? You guessed it:

  1. Phone/Electronics ChargersAnd places to plug them in once you’re on the rig. Apparently it’s life or death when that iPad, iPod or smart phone is down to 10% battery life and you are only two hours into your shift. Also important is a solid Wi-Fi/internet connection. (Just don’t let the DC catch you using it.) As one medic put it, be sure to bring a spare charger for when your partner forgets his.
  1. Food Something beyond granola bars, I’m being told. Sandwiches, chips, cookies, the occasional Snickers to ward off the ‘hangries’ and electrolyte replacement drinks. With the advent of hospitals turning into big business, and competing (on the corporate level at least) over where EMS brings patients, well-stocked EMS report writing rooms have popped up everywhere. I browsed one and almost fainted; it’s better stocked than my kitchen, and we’re not talking just ramen noodles, either. Upscale frozen meals, fresh sandwiches delivered by dietary, fresh fruit, and popsicles, popsicles, popsicles. Drinks galore. Keurig coffee and gourmet hot cocoa.
  1. A Lunchbox Dinosaurs like me have stressed the importance of throwing a banana/apple/pear/carrots/peanut butter on celery, what-have-you, a bottle of water or an electrolyte replacement drink – no sugary sodas or energy drinks – an ice pack and a power bar in a lunch sack, and then stowing it in the rig and forgetting about it for the first few hours into your shift. Then, four hours later after the GSW, the opioid overdose and three MVAs, when you are about to eat the microphone, there it is to save the day.
  1. The Golden Rule As my paramedic preceptor put it 20 years ago, “Never miss a chance to use the restroom.” Only he didn’t say it as delicately as that. Not even close.
  1. emt-gear‘Health Nut’ Supplies For those EMS folks focused on constant physical conditioning, (and there are quite a few), they simply don’t take a day off. I admire their dedication; I do five push-ups and I need a cookie. Their jumpkit necessities include supplemental protein power meals, meal replacement shakes, vitamins, supplements, and small, portable workout implements they can use between calls.
  1. A Sense of Humor A critical skill necessary to get you through the shift. My EMS peers have listed everything from being able to sing 80s hits at top volume with their crews, to the ability to throw your hands up and laugh when you haven’t seen either the station or a post in six hours. Also, as one paramedic put it, you need that relentless sense of humor when you run into a crew on the ER ramp that clearly is stressed, completely over the entire day, and needs to be distracted. Making them smile, laugh even, that’s the best medicine in the world. There are many things we are great at; taking care of our own is the very best of those traits.
  1. Waterproof Boots and SocksThis suggestion hurled at me after Hurricane Hermine swirled her skirts past us and brought an average of 11 inches of nonstop rain to our area (Tampa Bay). They speak the truth. I lived through the ridiculous 2004 Hurricane Season. I never worked so much mandatory overtime in my life; alas, without waterproofing on my boots. And extra dry socks only go so far when a Cat 3 is approaching.
  1. Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee If you see a paramedic or EMT, chances are a cup of java isn’t far. Maybe Starbucks, maybe Dunkin’, maybe your favorite mom and pop diner on the corner – yeah, caffeine can dehydrate us in sufficient quantities and give us the jitters, but little known fact, it can also ward off evil spirits. Really.
  1. A Great Working Relationship With PD You need them; they need you; learn their names, their districts, and above all, have their backs and always support them. We live in tumultuous times. Take care of your guys and gals in blue. All uniforms matter.
  1. A Peer Support System This obviously can’t fit in your jumpkit, but just as crucial. Had a rough call? Had a terrible shift? Nothing went right? It happens. Lean on your fellow EMS folks. Talk to someone. Don’t take it home with you; trust me on this.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Leah Dallaire

Leah Dallaire

Leah G. Dallaire is a highly accomplished freelance writer, editor and consultant with 28 years of experience. She has also concurrently been a paramedic for 20 years; the last 17 she spent serving the citizens of Pinellas County, Florida, which has a call volume of about 209,000 runs per year. She holds an M.A. and a B.A. in Writing & Literature from Union University. She has also just finished her first novel.
Leah Dallaire
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