After I finished college, I spent a few years as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) working for a busy 9-1-1 ambulance service in the Florida Panhandle. I learned a lot about myself (like my irrational fear of umbilical cords), and a lot about our society as a whole. It’s an experience I am incredibly grateful for, as I got to see the absolute best and worst aspects of humanity on a daily basis, and I was proud of the job I was doing. Although I didn’t make a career out of it, I left with a lot of essential skills and life lessons that continue to serve me well every day.
The most important skill I learned is my ability to write and tell a story. That isn’t to say I think I’m a good writer, but I wrote well enough to keep my ass out of court. Once, I was called before a team of lawyers for an incident that occurred at a large sporting event. Two men got into a fight, and the aggressor was arrested and charged. I ended up treating the victim. On that particular day, I probably saw around 20 different patients, and I had no recollection of this specific person. Thankfully, I had documented the encounter so well that it didn’t matter whether I remembered or not — all the information that was needed was in the report. But I could tell that the attorney was looking for any reason to call my care into question. If he could do that, he could discredit the evidence that his client had hurt the victim.
I was lucky I had taken the time to do a good job, but I was luckier I had an employer who had my back and taught me how to document. A lot of first responders aren’t as lucky. Take for instance the case of former US Marine and Afghanistan veteran Stephen Mader, who was fired from his job as a police officer with the Weirton Police Department in West Virginia for not shooting an armed suspect who was, according to Pro Publica, attempting to trick the officer into killing him. The practice is known as “suicide by cop,” and Mader recognized that the suspect’s gun did not have a magazine loaded. Mader determined that the man was not a threat. Two other police officers showed up and shot the man, killing him. The department criticized Mader for not shooting the suspect and terminated him, as the police chief felt that Mader was unfit to be a police officer.
I’m not even remotely qualified to speculate whether the police shooting in West Virginia was justified; however, it’s just one of countless examples of what can happen to first responders when their command staff do not have their back. It’s easy for an organization to fire one person and claim “they’re a bad apple.” It’s a lot harder for those organizations to admit liability — the urge to cover their ass is too great, and it’s one of the lesser thought-about dangers of being a first responder.