Normalization of Deviance of Sexual Harassment in EMS

Yesterday I was strolling about the internet reading and stumbled upon an article on a local New Jersey news website about a $195,000 civil settlement related to repeated sexual assault on a female EMT by her male “chief.” This settlement and related events were discovered through an OPRA request (non-disclosure by both parties was a requirement of the settlement). The Township’s Joint Insurance Fund paid for the settlement.

As though the events described in the court documents above were not terrible on their own- the chief is still employed by Mansfield EMS (Burlington County, NJ). Yes, he still has a job “leading” EMS providers even after violating one of his employees (on multiple occasions between 2015 and 2017) and creating a hostile work environment. As a non-profit entity I have to believe their board of directors is aware of these incidents- if not before, definitely after the lawsuit.

Perhaps the above and the normalization of deviance therein shouldn’t surprise me since many New Jersey providers I know weren’t bothered by these events or that providers were left in this man’s care even after he demonstrated his inability to provide leadership or even simple care for another human being. In the same news cycle many came to the defense of two Mohawk Ambulance EMS providers harassed by a local council woman- but, few cared to defend this EMT. Yet, we wonder why this behavior persists in our culture and why we are not respected by other public service entities- we don’t take care of each other. What we allow is what will continue.

What does this say to the citizens Mansfield EMS serves if a leader (and EMS provider) is accused of sexual assault and then the township settles (and attempts to hide these events)? Who are these citizens calling in their most vulnerable moments? Who exactly is showing up in their homes?

Relatedly, how does this “chief” still have an EMT certification? While this is a civil settlement and no criminal charges were filed, per their website NJ OEMS has previously launched investigations (and some suspensions/ revocations) of providers certifications based on providers’ behavior or in some cases charges, not convictions.

There are many excellent EMS providers in New Jersey; I have the privilege to work with a few of them. This one provider’s actions don’t reflect our mindset or beliefs- but our actions, or inactions, do. Allowing this kind of behavior in our community makes us liable. Not addressing this behavior allows the normalization of deviance of sexual assault and atmosphere of intimidation to continue.

I hope the Township of Mansfield and Mansfield EMS and NJ OEMS will do what’s right and replace this chief to protect and honor their EMS providers and their citizens. I hope other New Jersey EMS providers will stand for their colleagues if this happens to them and if need be vote with their feet (you never know if it will happen to you).

We are responsible for our profession and each other.

What we allow is what will continue.

“Chief” Lewis, we see you.

 

 

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National EMS Memorial Events 2017

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The National EMS Memorial Foundation is a non-profit organization to honor the commitment, service, and sacrifice of our nation’s EMS providers that have died in the line of duty and those who continue to serve. The foundation also endeavors to establish a physical national memorial in our Nation’s capital or surrounding area, similar to those already established for police and fire. In addition to this mission, NEMSMF holds several events to honor our brothers and sisters who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and died in the line of duty.

Saturday, May 13, 2017 10:00 to 11:00

National EMS Memorial Bike Ride East Coast Send Off – Boston City Hall, Boston, MA

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In conjunction with the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride held by the Muddy Angels, NEMSMF will participate in the send off ceremony for the East Coast route of the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride. The events will include the first Reading of the Names for 2017.

There should be other events on the route- check the schedule if you are local to the route.

Friday, May 19, 2017 to Sunday, May 21, 2017

National EMS Memorial Service Weekend of Honor – Washington, DC

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The Weekend of Honor is comprised of multiple events to honor the EMS providers that have given the ultimate sacrifice and to provide support their loved ones, EMS providers, family and friends are welcome.  Some of the events include: Welcoming the EMS Memorial Bike Riders to DC, Dealing with Our Loss for survivors, National EMS Memorial Service, and Family Breakfast. If you are unable to make it to the event, there is a link to a live streaming of the memorial service at the link above.

Sunday, May, 21, 2017 13:00

14th Annual EMS Day at Citi Field with the Mets – Queens, NY

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An afternoon of fun with the NY Mets as they take on the Los Angeles Angels. Special pricing and packages for EMS providers available. Proceeds from this event benefit EMT Yadira Arroyo’s family and NEMSMF.

Please share with your brothers and sisters. In the next few weeks I will be posting more information on NCEMSF and federal legislation related to the building of a physical EMS memorial in the Nation’s capital.

What goes through a medic’s mind?

Ginger Locke is infatuated with the minds of medics.

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She is a paramedic educator, researcher, author, blogger, and social media maven (please see awesome memes below). She has recently transformed her written word blog into a multimedia paradise featuring her new podcast, Medic Mindset, where she interviews medics delving into what makes them tick. She was inspired by her medic students questions as they became newly minted medics and wanted to help others know what to expect from their profession by interviewing working medics that share their honest perceptions and experiences. Clinical, operational, and personal topics are all present. Click above to access her blog and listen for yourself.

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The most recent episode features Fiona Thomas from The Code Green Campaign. The Code Green Campaign provides awareness of EMS provider mental health and suicide via shared stories, collects anonymous reports to track EMS suicides (in concert with Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance), and provides education for the EMS community. Their site also has a section with mental health providers and programs that specialize in treating first responders.

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Fiona shares the origins of Code Green, personal inspirations, and her ever changing career evolution. She also shares her clinical experiences as a paramedic, what challenges her clinically, and how she personally deals with stress and mitigating the effects of work. She also has some interesting non-EMS related jobs.

She discusses the cathartic effect journaling produces for her and it’s role in helping her release stress. Fiona pulls from her non-EMS life experience, sharing that “words matter,” not just the written word, but the actions our verbiage denotes and images they inspire and communicate.

Fiona gives some sage advice to her younger self (and the rest of us) to “just stick it out.” As EMS providers, and perhaps my personal experiences, we tend to give up when things get hard (professional or personal).

She continues by advising us to “listen to your patient.” We all know patients will tell you when they are going to die, vomit, or have a baby. But, what about the patients who aren’t in the throes of an emergency- listen to their stories or what they are telling you they need, even if it’s not in your clinical arsenal

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I’m not going to spoil the ENTIRE episode for you – you’ll have to listen yourself!

If you aspire to be a student of the profession and stay abreast of current topics in EMS, make it your business to follow Ginger and Medic Mindset.

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Be Contagious

We spend our days complaining about how life what isn’t what we expected or how we haven’t reached our expected timeline instead of accepting that, letting it go, and focusing on our dreams.

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I’m too old.

I can’t afford it.

I’m not that smart.

I’m (insert any excuse here).

Life is hard. No one warns you about getting kicked while you’re down or what reality is like when you are young and idealistic. What makes an individual remarkable is that they prevail despite every unfair and awful thing that tries to intervene. If you were dying today, what would you want to leave as your legacy?

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We are all dying right now.  Put aside what you “think” you should be doing and live your passion. Don’t make excuses, just start to do it. Share it  and yourself with others. That is what builds a legacy.

Three responders from my area died in the line of duty this week, all cut down in their prime.  Their lives were electric and touched many people because they loved and were passionate about life. They pursued their dreams and impacted many people on the journey. Their legacies live on in our hearts via their examples of how to live life contagiously well.

If God graces me with another day tomorrow, I hope I can do those legacies justice and celebrate the lives of those individuals by starting to live my life contagiously and stop letting excuses steal my legacy.

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A Day in the Life of EMS

Ah, EMS Week, full of granola bars, bat-belt chachkis, and music videos.

No, not a typo, my EMS Week 2014 included the great opportunity to be involved in Lt. Farooq Muhammad’s latest and much awaited EMS rap video: A Day in the Life of EMS!

Everyone involved in the making of this video embodied the true spirit of EMS. Even though some of us (patients) were not a part of their agency, we were welcomed and we all worked together to get the job done. Farooq’s videos resonate with EMS responders because under all the lights, sirens, and cool uniforms, the real qualities of EMS: teamwork, professionalism, and family, are illuminated. I was reminded of why this job is the best in the world while watching some of the other scenes being filmed. I became inspired to continue to learn and become a better provider in spite of the daily struggles with EMS nonsense that weigh most of us down.

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FDNY EMS Lt. Farooq Muhammad is one of the EMS 10 Innovator Awardees for 2013 for his work on videos promoting high quality EMS. You can see his other videos on his YouTube channel.

Dress for the job you want.

 
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  This adage is commonly used in reference to the business sector, but maintaining a professional and appropriate image is as applicable in EMS as on Wall Street.  People may not be investing their money in our bank, but they are investing a treasure that is greater than any monetary fund, they are entrusting us with their lives or those of their loved ones.  According to research by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, people assess your competence and trustworthiness in a quarter of a second based exclusively on how you look.  You haven’t even made it up the sidewalk to the patient and they already know what they think of you and how you will care for them.  Patients are not the only people we encounter that are making judgments based on what we look like.  Bosses, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, politicians, and every citizen on the street are looking at you, how you act and what you are wearing.  If you look like a mess, your organization looks like a mess.  Being mindful and aware of your appearance not only benefits your personal career, it benefits the advancement of EMS as a whole.
 
When I was a “new guy” I will admit I was quite a hellion.  Of course, you can’t properly raise hell without looking the part.  Short red hair with a white stripe in the front and shaved to the skin in the back, ears full of hoops (definitely more than four) and of course Doc Martins.  Begrudgingly I wore my super-hot and absolutely uncomfortable, polyester, French blue shirt and navy pants with matching stripe.  You can imagine my poor partners’ horror every day they had to work with me, “that guy.”  Not because I couldn’t lift or was a poor clinician, but I made THEM look bad because we were associated by the uniform. I didn’t get much respect from the old timers and surely not from nurses and doctors that I just met.  Time went on and my unique hairstyles evolved.  In the late 1990s there was a popular hairstyle that was long and straight in the back with “sprockets” or multiple twists that looked like battery coils at the crown.  Yes, I was enamored and loved to wear this style all-the-time.  One day at work our most infamous homeless guy called the ambulance, for the fourth time in six hours to go back to the hospital he just left.  A discussion turned into a rather heated debate with a police officer about what to do in the situation since taking this gentleman back to the hospital was not really what he wanted (that would be food and a cool place to sleep).  The police officer commented on my silly hairstyle during this argument.  The officer had deduced that I had no real responsibilities in life and had no liability to be concerned about when making patient care decisions because I wore unprofessional hairstyles to work.  I am just thankful no one has a photo.  If you do have one, please burn it.
 
When you put on your uniform, you are no longer your own unique individual.  Yes, you bring you and all your gifts and attributes to work, but the uniform signifies your representation of an organization of unified practitioners.  You can be unique and as fancy or silly or slovenly as you want to be on your own time.  When you are at work, you are not you, you are the job.  Uniforms are not all bad.  They can inspire authority, not only in patients’ eyes, but within our psyche as well.  On EMTLife.com, Adamjh3 states, “I’m way more confident in my uniform than I am normally, it’s like I’m a whole different person.”   Uniforms can inspire unity between employees, assisting in producing a team environment.  They also help others identify what role you play if they need assistance.  Uniforms can offer safety via blood borne pathogen or fire protection within the garments.  Most of the common complaints I have noted in reference to a uniform appearance for EMS workers deal with how the practitioner is wearing the garments or their appearance while in uniform.
 
Some commonly noted uniform faux pas are:
Wrinkled uniforms:  I recently attended a funeral for a fellow EMT. One of the mourners, also an EMT, had on a uniform shirt that looked like he pulled it out of the bottom of the hamper.  On a regular day that is awful, at a funeral it was disrespectful and disgusting.  Iron your stuff, or at least throw it in the dryer (I won’t tell).
Dirty Uniforms:  Some of us wear light blue or white shirts and dirt from various sources finds its way right to the front of the shirt for everyone to see, it is part of the job.  If your shirt is grey or brown and it wasn’t that color when it was issued, please wash your uniform.  I won’t mention all the other things living on a dirty uniform, you can imagine on your own.
Ill-fitting uniforms:Too big and too small look equally bad.  All your parts should be covered without looking like you borrowed your Dad’s clothes.
Shirt tails:  Tuck your shirt in!  This was the big winner when I asked providers for their feedback on their biggest uniform peeve.  This one thing can instantly make you look slovenly and lazy.
Wear a t-shirt:  In addition to having an extra layer of protection against the gross things our uniform shirts attract, a t-shirt makes what is under your uniform shirt opaque and protects you from wardrobe malfunctions. As a new EMT rebelling against my unfashionable uniform, I did not wear a t-shirt.  One day while driving back to headquarters I looked down to find my shirt wide open!  Three buttons “malfunctioned” and all I could think about was how to button my shirt without my partner noticing.  Thankfully, he was a gentleman and made up an excuse about going to the corner store and left me to fix my shirt in peace.  Guys, this goes for you, too!  No one wants to see your Magnum PI chest hair through your shirt.  White, navy or black are typical colors that compliment most uniforms, but of course wear what your organization’s SOPs direct.
 
Hair: Since my days of rebellion via coif I have been reformed and now stick to either blond or red that could occur via nature.  My professional life has improved greatly.  Yours can, too.  Men, keep your hair cut or styled (the ladies like it, too).  Shave your face if it looks bad and follow your organization’s SOPs for facial hair. Ladies, if you have long hair or loose where it could get into bodily fluids that aren’t yours (yes that happened) please secure it.  This is a blood borne pathogens issue and a security issue.  If you are attacked by someone your beautiful hair can be used as a weapon against you.
Piercings and jewelry: No, you should not wear your septum piercing and Marilyn Manson gauges to work.  Granny may have a conniption and the goal is to not upset your patient any more than they already are.  In reality all jewelry should be avoided for safety and security reasons, someone can attack you and rip out your piercings, use a necklace to choke you; your rings can get caught on many items in your truck or on a scene.  Everyone wants to go home at night with all their parts intact.
Accessories:  Please wear a belt.  A belt can hold your radio and many other doodads you may need at work.  A belt can also help with that pesky shirt tail that won’t stay tucked in or pants that are a little too large.  If you note that your boots are looking scuffed, dirty or broken down, please clean and polish them or replace them.  The lady with the white carpet does not care that you were at a cow pasture last week; you are not getting into her house with those boots.
We do a job that requires exertion at times and yes, we sweat and that can be quite fragrant.  You should not be malodorous BEFORE your shift.  Good hygiene benefits your partner and your patients who will be in close quarters with you and your aroma at some point.  It benefits you as well since you don’t want to be “that guy” no one wants to work with.  Clean, neat hands are important in our profession since they are our tools to administer treatment to patients.  Not only can they carry disease, but like our uniform they demonstrate our attention to detail.  No one wants to be touched by grubby hands, even when enclosed in gloves.
I recently attended a seminar at a prestigious university where a speaking coach was discussing how to have your message heard.  The very first thing she talked about was visual presentation.  People make their decision about whether or not you are worth listening to within milliseconds.  That may not seem “fair”, but it is what we have to work with when attempting to deliver our message and treat our patients.  In our business our message can affect our own or others’ lives, what message could be more important?  

 

I Used to Love Her

Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes
Shakespeare In Love
Do you remember what it was like when you first fell in love?
 
Something about that person piqued your interest.  Your brain perked up, bright and alert.  You couldn’t wait to hear from them or see them again!  Even the briefest encounter or conversation was played over and over in your head until the next time you could interact with them.  Time went on and the relationship developed.   You learned about each other’s idiosyncrasies, patterns, ideas and started to plan a life together.  Then one day, without warning, your love ripped open your pericardium and tore out your heart!  “Why!?!” you wailed while envisioning every moment in a torturous movie reel playing only for you. Some time passed and you saw your lover, beautiful, invigorating, beckoning you to love them again.  (This is where the movie audience screams, “NO!”)
 
Yeah, EMS is like that.
EMS has broken my heart several times, and yet I keep coming back for more.  I’m caught in the Siren’s song like a fisherman in the Aegean.  I have left EMS before, two or three times, declaring never to set foot in an ambulance again.  Damn the Man, Fight the power and all that.  I planned to have a lovely, wealthy life in marketing until I found out most marketers make less than EMTs.  Shortly after this discovery, my old partner came around for coffee one day throwing out the line, “Come on, you can work with me!”  I’m not here to sell you some ad space so you know what happened next.

 

 
Australian Ambulance Headquarters turned coffee shop.
 
I suppose the question is, “Why keep coming back if you know you might get hurt again?”  The risk of not doing something meaningful with my life was greater than the risk of having my feelings hurt.  Deborah Mills-Scofield wrote an article called “Are Entrepreneurs Really More Comfortable with Risk” in the Harvard Business Review that addresses this theory.  While she is comparing large companies and entrepreneurs, I believe this theory is very applicable to the practitioners within EMS as well.  Long term EMS providers, five years or more, define risk and satisfaction with work differently.  We all knew after the first few paychecks that this was not the job to get wealthy with, but our riches lie in other currencies.  Our wealth is measured by stories told by veterans or old, seasoned souls, secrets people entrust to you about their deepest sorrows or fears that they cannot tell anyone else, a thank you from a young patient’s family weeks later at a chance meeting in town.  When I was a new EMT I relished being able to “fix” people with my hands, now I relish holding someone’s hand and listening to the gift the patient is imparting to me.
 
There are several kinds of people in EMS.  There are those that are here for a stepping stone into Police, Fire, or another medical profession; they get their experience and move on.  There are those that find EMS is not for them or isn’t exactly what they bargained for and leave shortly after they start.  Then there are those of us that weren’t looking for it, but we fell in love with this job and all that it entails.  We just can’t leave it alone and even once we get that nice office job with a thick carpet we still have one foot in the truck working a shift a week just to keep our chops and to keep the withdraw at bay.  I never thought I would become a dinosaur, but the experience, compassion and knowledge amassed in this group is staggering and I am humbled to be on the fringe.  I don’t think I will ever leave EMS, I don’t think I can.  This is what I know how to do, no matter how many degrees I might obtain or how high on the ladder of life I climb.  She may break my heart every now and again, but I will always come back around.