My wife and I got back Thursday from a whirlwind tour of Northern Italy which included stops in Milan, Florence, Venice, and Trieste. The time away gave me a chance to reflect on a number of things, particularly the issues we face in American society in comparison to those in other societies, and even more so, as it relates to the fire and emergency medical services.
One interesting observation, that I am going to keep short because I have a lot of catching up to do: When I would introduce myself to any number of my Italian colleagues from the emergency medical side of the house, I would often get quizzical looks, and almost confusion in regard to why I was introducing myself. When I asked to see their ambulances, in every cases it was more along the line of "why would you want to see in there?"
When I appeared in a fire station and introduced myself as an American firefighter, I got hearty handshakes, lots of questions, comparisons of patches, badges, uniforms and other stuff. Each apparatus and each compartment was opened up for my inspection, even when I didn't have time. Even when neither I nor they spoke a common language, the firefighters figured out some way to communicate. There was no indifference.
I am very aware that this was a VERY short time frame and a very small sampling of individuals, but it did occur to me that even though almost every one of the EMS folks were polite, they seemed distant and a little skeptical. In EVERY SINGLE case of meeting a firefighter, I was taken in, hugged, given uniform articles without any solicitation, and a detailed discussion (even if I didn't understand it) ensued about what size our community was, what our staffing was like, etc.
In regard to EMS, having been a paramedic for 25 years and having even worked (not only as a paramedic, but as a chief officer) in third party systems, I am entitled to my observations. I can say without bias that each has its merits. I also think that a lot of how the service is provided depends upon the community and it's own needs. But I can also say from my direct observation, that there seems to be a different mindset between the two, and when I can detect that readily even in four large Italian cities, it starts becoming a trend.
If I introduce myself to a Fire/EMS agency member, I always say I am a "firefighter paramedic". If I introduce myself to emergency medical personnel, I say I am a "paramedic". If I introduce myself to fire department personnel or to the general public, I say I am a "firefighter", mostly because "paramedic" doesn't always translate into the same job description from place to place. But as important as both elements of my job are, and as much as I think that emergency medical service operations are a major component of my day in comparison to fire operations, I guess I will always be a firefighter first, if anything, because that's my family heritage. Doing EMS wasn't an afterthought, it was just part of the package of being a firefighter, as far as I have always been concerned.
I want to dig into this a little deeper, but I wished to permit some of you to weigh in as well. What observations do you have on the difference? If you think there is a difference, why do you think the mindset might be different? What challenges do emergency service leaders face in supervising firefighters in contrast to emergency medical personnel?
Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you. Keep it civil, please.