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On the Frontline: The Unsung Heroes of EMS

May 30, 2018
Published in: First Aid

A first responder giving chest compressions to someone on the ground

You're home alone on a Friday night when all of a sudden you feel dizzy. Before you know it, you’re on the floor unable to get up. You know you need help but your family isn’t close by, and your spouse is out of town for a weekend business trip. Who do you call?

Each year, the emergency department at Augusta Health treats more than 60,000 people. Not all of these patients made it to the hospital on their own or were transported by people they know. When there is no other way to get to the hospital safely, or there’s a dire emergency, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responders step in to help. These first responders are a lifeline for people in dangerous and life-threatening situations.

What is EMS?

paramedic unloading an empty stretcher from an ambulanceEmergency Medical Services, also known as EMS, is a system that provides emergency medical care. The primary purpose is to offer immediate medical care to people who need it most in hopes of prolonging their life. Without EMS, patients with life threatening conditions may not receive help in time, leading to increased fatalities. EMS is quite literally on the frontlines of medicine and positive patient outcomes.

EMS is based on six general principles:

  1. Early detection of the incident is crucial since it's the first step towards understanding the situation and seeking help. Once a medical emergency is confirmed, the proper authorities can be contacted.
  2. Early reporting. Early detection leads to early reporting. This component also includes ensuring the public is aware of the area's emergency phone number to increase the likeliness of an immediate emergency phone call. The operator or handler then briefs the EMS team about what they are about to face.
  3. Early response. The emergency medical technicians (EMT) and paramedics on the EMS team then urgently respond to the location of the emergency so proper care can be given promptly. An early response is often crucial for survival like in the cases of heart attack or stroke.
  4. Good on scene care. The EMS team is trained to provide the proper medical assistance in any situation. Adequate first aid, which is the primary purpose of EMS, should be given to stop further damage from developing. The EMTs and paramedics in charge, take control over the medical emergency and decide whether or not the patient needs further treatment in the hospital.
  5. Care in transit occurs when the need to go to the hospital has been established. The responding EMTs and paramedics on the team continue providing the necessary first aid throughout the transport.
  6. Transfer to definitive care. Once the vehicle arrives at the hospital, the patient should be handed over to the medical facility that is equipped to handle the case. It is then up to the doctors in charge to take care of the patient, which is where the medical procedures at the hospital will begin.

EMT vs. Paramedic Training

Both EMT's and Paramedics are trained healthcare professionals who respond to medical and traumatic emergencies in a pre-hospital setting. While both professionals are highly skilled and have significant roles, there are differences in their positions and education levels.


EMT training involves 150 hours of classroom education, including hours of externship, and a required number of real live-patient assessments. There is also advanced training to become an EMT-Intermediate (EMT-I), which requires another 250 hours of training.

EMT's are trained to provide basic-level life support to people who are hurt or injured. They can perform:

  • CPR/Automated Defibrillation
  • Artificial ventilation
  • Oxygen administration
  • Basic airway management
  • Spinal immobilization
  • Vital signs
  • Bandaging/splinting/wound care
  • A variety of rescue operations, including vehicle rescue, FEMA's Incident Command System training, and HazMat awareness
  • EMT-I's can perform additional skills like intravenous therapy and manual defibrillation.


Paramedic training requires an additional 1,200-1,800 of national standard curriculum hours, plus an additional internship and field training. Once licensed, paramedics maintain specialty classifications including, but not limited to, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, Critical Care Paramedic, and Certified Flight Paramedic. Paramedics provide pre-hospital advanced life support including:

  • Advanced airway management
  • Endotracheal intubation (breathing tube)
  • Manual defibrillation and artificial pace-making
  • ECG (Electrocardiograph)monitoring
  • IV fluid and medication therapy
  • Administration of a wide array of medications and electromechanical as well as pneumatic ventilation
  • And much more

Ready to become an EMT or Paramedic?

To earn the title of EMT or paramedic, one must complete educational and experiential requirements. Many technical schools, community colleges, and traditional universities offer classes from basic training as well as associate and bachelor's degrees in emergency medical services. Earning a bachelor's degree can allow for more career advancement opportunities such as becoming a healthcare administrator or manager.

Along with the school's requirements, states also have requirements the student must complete before becoming a certified EMT or paramedic. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Age limits. Most states require most prospective EMT's and paramedics to be at least 18 years old before enrolling in training.
  • Background checks.
  • CPR Certifications. Some schools will need students to have their CPR certification before entering their EMT program. Others will have CPR training as part of the course.
  • Medical Exams including proof of immunization and evidence of a recent physical exam.

What can you do?

Since emergencies can strike at any time, it is crucial to be prepared. Make sure to have these essential items with you whenever possible, especially if you have a chronic or complicated medical condition:

  • All insurance and other medical cards
  • An updated list of any medications you take, including over-the-counter products such as vitamins, herbs, diet pills, and smoking cessation drugs knowledge of your medical history and any allergies you have.
  • Knowledge of your medical history and any allergies you have

It’s hard to overstate the profound impact EMS providers have on saving lives every single day. From traumatic injuries to medical emergencies, these highly trained and dedicated individuals devote their lives to keeping us safe. We are so grateful to have these unsung heroes on the frontline of patient safety!