6 essential roles of the EMS company officer

6 essential roles of the EMS company officer

Lieutenant, crew lead, captain, senior medic – they’re all titles floating around the EMS community – but what do these titles really entail?

For some agencies, they’re exactly that; titles. For others, however, they signify accomplishment, accountability, responsibility and investment within the organization.

Those in the fire service, or military for that matter, are accustomed to rank and structure in their daily work life. One does not simply overstep his or her company officer to go straight to a chief officer unless there’s an emergent issue a superior needs to address. There’s a chain-of-command … a structure … a flow.

Those in the fire service, or military for that matter, are accustomed to rank and structure in their daily work life. (Photo/Vermont Department of Health)
Those in the fire service, or military for that matter, are accustomed to rank and structure in their daily work life. (Photo/Vermont Department of Health)

Quite honestly, many EMS agencies are lacking this chain of command (and it shows!).

Yes, there’s an EMS director or chief sitting at the top of the food chain in every organization (or at least I hope there is), but considering all of the many facets that compose running an EMS agency, all of these roles can’t simply sit in the hands of one individual. There needs to be delegation.

Organizations like the National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA) have recently introduced credentials that recognize the background and abilities of such supervisory, managing and executive paramedic officers, just like the National Fire Academy and many state fire service entities have done for fire officers. Some private training companies and thought-provokers within our industry have even developed courses and workshops to address this paradigm shift.

Implement EMS training for officers in these skills

Creating a certification or credential is one way to address this need within our industry, and so is building a training program to introduce and implement it as part of your agency’s culture.

Identifying a training need as an EMS company officer can be accomplished in many ways. Programs can reflect existing courses that focus on incident management, incorporate leadership development and can even slide-in some basic-level management curriculum. In order to build this type of program, however, we need to look at the roles of an EMS company officer (which can certainly differ slightly in each organization):

1. Command

One of the strongest attributes of the fire service, and fire-based EMS for that matter, is their chain-of-command.

Now, having a command presence is by no means synonymous with micromanagement. In any working environment – especially an emergency scene – there needs to be a clear path for:

  • Communications
  • Logistics
  • Triage
  • Staging
  • Oversight
  • Overall EMS operations.

This is where the EMS company officer can step in.

EMS company officers don’t necessarily need to be in their own SUV hidden at an intersection down the street. They can be “ordinary” field providers. In any event, someone still needs to be in charge, someone needs to take command and someone still needs to provide daily oversight.

2. Oversight

Your director, chief, field training officer, medical director or compliance officer can’t be on-duty or in the field every day, but an EMS company officer can. Acting in an oversight role provides continued direction for the agency when administrative staff can’t be present (or don’t need to be present). Company officers can resolve clinical issues immediately, or document them accordingly and notify the next person in line to handle these events; acting as a resource.

3. Resource

This isn’t to say that only older providers can be company officers, but it does imply that those filling this role should be a wealth of knowledge. Whether it’s knowing the agency’s historical perspective, having greater insight into the system as a whole or simply having more of a clinical background in the agency’s scope of practice, company officers should be seen as a resource – a “go-to person” that can either provide an answer, or knows where to find an answer. They can help to guide you, like a mentor.

4. Mentor

Another component to the resource role is the drive to set up others for success. Being a mentor to an individual, a crew or an entire on-duty shift is a powerful responsibility. Having a command presence demands authority; being a mentor earns respect.

5. Advocate

For instances where there’s an oversight issue, or a clinical clarification is needed, someone needs to close the communication loop to provide follow up, or advocacy, for the crews as a whole. Company officers need to act as a buffer – a middleman – when it comes to the relationship between line staff and administration. They need to act, at least in theory, like our elected representatives … our advocates.

6. Partner

At the end of the day, a company officer not only needs to be seen as a resource and mentor, but also as an equal; as a partner. They need to be clinically competent, skilled in their trade and cognizant of the agency’s operations. When push comes to shove, they need to be able to step in right next to you (not over you) to do the same job … to walk in your shoes right alongside you.

EMS chief credits custom ambulance for saving crew, patient in crash

EMS chief credits custom ambulance for saving crew, patient in crash

By EMS1 Staff

KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — An EMS chief credited a custom ambulance design for keeping a crew and their patient safe when a drunk driver crashed into the rig.

KREM reported that a Kootenai County EMS crew and the patient they were transporting suffered only minor injuries after Matthew Johnson crashed into their ambulance while going 70 mph.

“Once I saw it, I thought ‘Wow, I can’t believe the patient and crew are OK,’” KCEMS Chief Chris Way said. “Obviously, your mind goes to: is the patient OK?”

Way said all 15 ambulances in the KCEMS fleet were custom designed with safety in mind, adding that extra safety features were put inside all of the rigs.

“They came into the project knowing that safety was our paramount objective,” Way said.

The chief said the designs and protocols of the ambulance ensured various pieces of equipment remained stationary in the crash.

“It did its job, but it kept everything in place,” he said. “Everything we did to put safety in mind and the trucks they constructed – the job that they did really paid off for us when it counted.”

Way hopes other agencies will use the incident to consider making safety the top priority when designing their ambulances.



Police officers honored for saving newborn in cardiac arrest

Police officers honored for saving newborn in cardiac arrest

By News Staff

MT. WASHINGTON, Ky. — A group of police officers were honored for saving a newborn in cardiac arrest.

WAVE3 reported that Mt. Washington Police Department Officers Austin Battcher, Ben Norris and Jesse Bratcher were given the Life Saving Award after responding to a Dec. 18 call about 6-week-old Avery, who has a congenital heart defect and was found unresponsive by her parents.

Avery and her parents, Kayla Smith and Ricky Conover, had spent 17 days at the hospital after she was born, and nurses prepared them for their return home by teaching them CPR and telling them what to expect.

“We were prepared, but it still doesn’t really prepare you for what happened that night,” Smith said.

Smith said Avery was asleep in her bed when she started “gasping for air.”

“By the time I got up and picked her up she was so limp, there was nothing to her,” Smith recalled. “Her whole face, her eyes, her mouth, was already turning blue.”

Five minutes after Smith called 911, the officers arrived to help.

“She takes two deep, deep breaths, gasps for air,” Norris recalled.

Norris said the officers began switching off administering CPR to Avery before EMS arrived.

“It turns your stomach,” Battcher said. “Because it’s not a call we deal with very often.”

Bratcher said the experience was emotional.

“I think the only call I’ve actually ever cried on,” he said. “Watching the ambulance take off and adrenaline jump … I mean we didn’t really say much at all.”

Avery survived and spent 10 days in the hospital before returning home.

The officers said that although they were the ones being awarded, they couldn’t take all of the credit.

“We were the first ones there, but EMS was right behind us,” Battcher said.


Ohio EMS providers fighting for PTSD protocol speak out

Ohio EMS providers fighting for PTSD protocol speak out

By EMS1 Staff

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Anonymous paramedics shared their experiences with PTSD as they continue to fight for protocol from the city on handling mental trauma.

In a new series from Cleveland 19, three Cleveland EMS paramedics using the names Norman, Sam and Jason discussed dealing with PTSD without proper training.

Cleveland EMS providers are fighting for PTSD support in contract negotiations.(Photo/YouTube)
Cleveland EMS providers are fighting for PTSD support in contract negotiations.(Photo/YouTube)

“I actually started having nightmares. And the nightmare that would always flash was that little girl,” Sam said, recalling a baby he could not save. “They don’t teach you to tell the mother that a 1-year-old is dead from a gunshot wound to the head.”

Jason said no one teaches EMS providers how to “cope” after trauma.

“You aren’t taught how you’re supposed to cope, to decompress. How you’re supposed to go home, and live your life after you leave work,” he said.

Norman said being a paramedic has shown him a darker perspective.

“Nobody knows how dark human nature actually is until you have a front row seat to the whole thing,” he said.

The three paramedics said they love their jobs, they just want to take care of themselves.

“We need mental health help out here. There has to be something. We all think it’s time,” they said.

An anonymous former Cleveland EMS commander, using the name Mark, said he’ll never forget the stress of the job.

“I was suicidal at one point. The accumulation of everything I’d done and seen and been through, and I just saw no other way out. It was just a really, really dark place,” Mark said. “I was working at headquarters at the time, at lunchtime my plan was to – I had a train schedule, go down to Lakeside, I think it was the 20th or 22nd or something I don’t remember exactly, and I was going to drive in front of a train.”

Mark said he was diagnosed with PTSD after something stopped him and he decided to get help. He said his concerns about mental health were not addressed during his time with CEMS.

“If you have a mental health issue, you’re on your own. People are compassionate at first but then when you don’t have a visible injury or illness or something you can put your finger on, you’re expected to come back to work and to be all smiles and function,” he said.

Mark said he was shocked when he learned there is still no EMS protocol in place for PTSD.

“EMS folks commit their lives to taking care of people they don’t even know. And I mean, I don’t know that there’s anything more noble than that, but they don’t get any support,” he said. “It’s just a very toxic environment, and it’s unhealthy and the turnover rate is incredibly high as you probably know. I’m afraid that someone’s going to commit suicide or people overdose.”

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