Essential Service — How Do We Get There?

Hello, my fellow Carolina Fire-Rescue-EMS Journal readers. As we begin to see COVID-19 lose some of its luster, we certainly cannot let down our guard.  image

While most effects of the global pandemic were not pleasant, it did provide an opportunity for public safety professionals to once again jockey for position as essential workers. While we feel like we have always been this way, especially in the eyes of the patients we care for, the services we provide overall have been a bit overlooked. Now is the time to institute some changes.

Becoming involved in professional organizations such as the SC EMS Association, NAEMT, and other like-minded groups allows you as a provider to have a voice on a local, state and national level. Participating in EMS on The Hill Day allows attendees to take part in grass roots efforts for legislative initiatives and reform. The Siren Act for example was passed as a direct result of voices from the field being heard, essential voices.

While many public safety services have tried to align service delivery, there are many factors that have prevented this. Funding of services can be a challenge. When you sit down to draw out your budget proposal, key items get removed or you are asked to reduce your budget by a percentage which creates gaps. Taking time to explain your essential needs to the budget review board can pay off, literally. Every service has needs without any doubt. You are in a competition for a limited amount of funds. Educating the review board will help them have a better understanding of the true needs. You can only get so much ketchup from one tomato, right? Presenting a well-planned vision will show the powers that be that you are being fiscally responsible; and that essential equipment, supplies and personnel are keys to your success as a public safety entity.

We face many obstacles and challenges each day that we hit the streets. As if increasingly high call volume was not enough, here comes a pandemic. We had to struggle to find essential supplies to handle “normal” runs. Personal Protective Equipment was difficult to find. When you are an essential service, preparation should be at the top of our duties. As a provider of emergency care, we need to consider a stockpile of frequently used supplies. A stock rotation cycle can be implemented to ensure these items do not go out of date. We all heard stories of services having to reuse certain items because they simply could not find replacement supplies. What are we doing now to prepare for the next big event?

Sustainability and continuation of services were challenging as well. We were faced with shortages of well providers. Exposures to COVID-19 created a crippling shortage of staff members to handle calls. Some services experienced a lull in the beginning, but volume came back with a vengeance. Luckily, EMS providers were among the first to receive the vaccine, but the numbers of doses needed was grossly underestimated. It was believed that there were good numbers to capture the essential workers but with over one million EMS providers nationwide, the dosing that was made available was only around 270,000. Many dual-certified providers were left out of the numbers because they were not on an EMS roster. Many fire department and law enforcement personnel, which provide medical care, were not included. A proposal of change to federal legislation has been introduced to change the way essential workers are accounted for.

We have come a long way in EMS, but there are many more miles to go. EMS is still the youngest of public safety services, but we are positioning ourselves every day. This must be a team effort and by becoming involved we will be heard. Talk to your local councils and your state and federal legislators to let them know how greatly we need to be classified as essential workers and services. Talk to the younger folks in your communities and share your reasons as to why you chose your profession. We must train our replacements and help the next generation of EMS clinicians become successful.

Final Thoughts

There are many professions out there that are essential. Again, we are fighting for our piece of the pie against many others. Collectively, all public safety service providers must convey the same message. We are one team, one family. Be creative in your request, engage other providers to show this united front and proclaim the importance of being essential. Together we will make a difference. Stay strong my friends, the battle continues on.

William Tatum serves as the President of the South Carolina EMS Association. He is also a career Paramedic serving as the Communications Supervisor for Prisma Health Emergency Medical Services. In addition, he is the S.C. Membership Coordinator and one of the Region II Directors on the Executive Board for the National Association of EMT’s (NAEMT). Tatum is currently involved as an Adjunct Instructor for EMT programs in the upstate and is part of many EMS and Public Safety Advisory Committees. He can be reached via email at

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