The life of an Emergency Medical Services worker is very different from your average nine to five. It can be hectic, demanding, and strenuous, but also rewarding, meaningful, and even life changing.
To gain perspective into this heroic career field, three local EMS workers volunteered their time: Maria Wescoe, a Northampton resident and the Director of Operations at Northampton Regional EMS with 41 years of service; Joe Light, an East Allen Township resident and President of East Allen Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps with 14 years of service; and Ryan Bowers, a Lehigh Township resident and Paramedic at City of Bethlehem EMS, who also volunteers at Bushkill Township Volunteer Fire Co. and Lehigh Township Volunteer Fire Co. with 16 years of service.
The consensus among these three EMS workers regarding what the public may not know is how understaffed this career field currently is, which poses many challenges. For instance, when answering calls to neighboring municipalities due to short staffing, there are no ambulances left to backfill the community, not to mention the countless overtime hours that EMS workers face.
And although some EMS organizations are tax based, many are not. This means the organizations that do not receive tax revenue have to fund themselves, often only relying on donations, fundraising, and low insurance reimbursements, which isn’t enough to keep up with rising costs.
Joe also shared that volunteerism is dying because EMS is mainly becoming a paid profession, which has led to increased staff shortages, especially because it takes a lot of work to keep up with courses and continuing education in order to remain up to date with training.
Maria expressed that in EMS, personnel have to bring their “A game” every single day because the community is relying on them.
“There is no place for mediocrity in healthcare. We have to raise that bar every day. What was good enough for today isn’t going to be good enough for tomorrow. We have to keep educating, training, and doing better.”
Maria also shared that most people think they are just ambulance drivers, but in the back of an ambulance, EMS personnel are by themselves, taking care of a patient at their worst critical time without all the resources that a hospital emergency room would have, and having to decide what their treatment is going to be.
“You have to be a mediator at times, have a cool head, be a quick thinker, a problem solver, and look out for the safety of your partner,” said Maria.
EMS can be a challenging career field, and not just because of low funds. For Maria, she recalls how challenging it has been any time a child’s life is involved and any time she responded to calls for accidents from things that could have been avoided, such as when someone was texting while driving, when individuals were not wearing seatbelts, and overdoses, which are all potentially preventable accidents. For Joe, he recalls challenging calls as an EMT such as handling major accidents and now having to become an employer as president, which requires dealing with employees and managing different personalities. Ryan also recalls the difficult calls that first responders face on a daily basis, but he also finds being away from his family for extended shifts to be especially challenging.
Although there are many challenging moments for EMS workers, the rewarding moments far outweigh them. For instance, Maria remembers a cardiac arrest save that she responded to in 1990 where the person was very young. Then three years ago, she got a call from the person’s family that the person had passed away. However, instead of being sad, they were thankful for the second chance she had given their father, which allowed him to see his children and grandchildren grow up. Maria also recalls the times she has received phone calls that her staff did an excellent job, which makes her immensely proud of their hard work and dedication. She boasts that this year alone, “Northampton Regional EMS had 15 cardiac arrests saves, which is phenomenal!”
Joe shares that helping the community and giving back is the most rewarding part of his job. He also beamed about East Allen EMS finally being able to purchase a third ambulance (Unit 4683), which they had needed for a long time. Joe explains that he is very proud to have been able to accomplish this under his presidency because it allows East Allen EMS to serve the citizens of its township more efficiently, which is the greatest reward.
Ryan divulges that the most rewarding thing about his job is being able to help people during the worst moments of their lives.
“Not only am I there to provide medical care, but I am also a mentor and a shoulder to cry on if needed,” Ryan shares. He also goes on to say how proud he is to be a great role model for his son and to show him that “one of the most important things you can do in life is to help someone in need.”
When asked about what advice they would give to someone who is thinking of becoming or is just starting out as an EMT or paramedic, Maria states, “This is the absolute best career you could ever choose. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it because it’s very trying, and you have to constantly evolve and keep raising the bar.”
Joe’s advice is to not give up and to stick with it even though it can be very difficult.
Ryan’s advice is to: “Never stop learning and always remain humble. Take all the constructive criticism you can and become the best medical provider you can be.”
Although these hometown heroes may think of what they do as first responders simply as their job, the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication that they put into serving their communities does not go unnoticed.
If you would like to apply or donate to these remarkable organizations, visit their websites.
Northampton Regional EMS: nrems.org
East Allen Township Volunteer Ambulance Corps: eatvac.org
City of Bethlehem EMS: bethlehem-pa.gov/EMS
Bushkill Township Volunteer Fire Co.: bushkilltownshipfireco.com
Lehigh Township Volunteer Fire Co.: lehightownshipfire.com
The Home News is seeking essential workers in the community to interview for the ongoing column, Noteworthy Neighbors. Emergency responders, teachers, local government, bus drivers, veterans, farmers, etc.; if you do essential work for a living, we want to hear from you. If you are interested in being interviewed and sharing with the community the work that you do, please email AskUs@HomeNewsPA.com.