Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Who exactly is a paramedic who drives an ambulance?

Some of our readers have taken great offense to the headline to a story in our Sunday print edition, which read: ‘Ambulance driver badly hurt in crash: 3 others injured in head-on crash’
The story, accompanied by a photo of the badly crumpled front of the  ambulance, went on to describe how the ambulance, driven by paramedic William Spadafora, had collided Saturday morning with a pickup truck on state Route 32 in the town of Ulster.

Many of you at this point are likely puzzled. But every member of the emergency services community knows exactly what’s at issue.
In the eyes of paramedics, we committed the sin of referencing one of their own as an ‘ambulance driver,’ instead of as either a ‘paramedic’ or an ‘emergency medical technician.’
We know this because we have heard from a steady stream of paramedics. The response has run the gamut from gentle education to full-scale venting, including the crying of tears.
No offense was intended nor was it implied by a common reading of our headline.
We understand the distinction between ‘ambulance driver’ and ‘paramedic,’ which is why you normally will not see a news story referencing ‘ambulance drivers’ responding to the scene of an emergency. It’s also why Mr. Spadafora was characterized in the story as a paramedic after it was made clear that he had been the driver of the ambulance.
But, journalistically, ‘ambulance driver’ performs much better in the headline in service of readers.
The paramedic injured in this accident was not "an ambulance driver" in the sense of vocation, but he was very definitely was in the sense of "the driver of an ambulance." (You wouldn't say "Paramedic driver," would you?)
That is to say, the description is both accurate and more informative than "Paramedic badly hurt in crash." The use puts the victim behind the wheel of an ambulance and suggests the accident occurred while in performance of a duty. The story, of course, goes on to identify his status as paramedic, presumably eliminating any potential confusion.
Think of it this way. Most traffic accident headlines will read something like this:
-- 'Motorist badly hurt....'
Indicating the driver of a car, usually a personal vehicle.
-- 'Cyclist badly hurt...'
Indicating the driver of a motorcycle.
-- 'Truck driver badly hurt....'
Indicating the driver of a truck.
In none of those instances is the characterization of the driver intended to signify vocation or status, but, rather, the headline indicates the action of the person at the time of the accident. In other words, this style of headline, in each of its variations, puts the injured behind the wheel of the particular vehicle involved.
The motorist or the cyclist or the truck driver could be a brain surgeon or a lifeguard or an editor or a paramedic; that's not the point of the characterization, which is simply to put the injured person behind the wheel of a vehicle at the time of an accident.
In most cases, we would not write "Brain surgeon badly hurt..." or "Lifeguard badly hurt..." or "Editor badly hurt..." when writing about a traffic accident. (We would do so only if the person injured was particularly well-known such as, say, a mayor or governor or famous musician.)
Again, the headline is not about their occupation or status, it's about what they were doing at the time of the accident.
In print, for the purposes of clarity in a limited space, the headline "Ambulance driver badly hurt...' worked perfectly in concert with the photo that we published, immediately telling the potential reader that the person injured was behind the most severely crushed portion of the ambulance.
The story, of course, properly clarified that Mr. Spadafora is a paramedic.
A couple of folks even sent along to us an essay attributed to Rod Brouhard, a paramedic and published author on emergency medical care.
That article delves into the history of the term as used in the days when training was scarce for mobile emergency providers. Interestingly, while the persons who send us the article intended to chastise us, the article itself actually defends the occasional, specific use of the term “ambulance driver.”
According to the article forwarded to us, Brouhard wrote:
Even though the training of paramedics and EMTs got more intensive and began to provide more in-depth care, we never could quite shake the moniker of ambulance driver. I am regularly asked - often by folks who really should know better - if I'm still "driving the ambulance."
Here's the thing: Within the description of my job I am certainly an ambulance driver. It's part of the gig. When you call 911 for a medical emergency, someone must drive the ambulance to your location. Indeed, California requires ambulance drivers to have an ambulance driver's certificate. Not all states require ambulance driver licenses, but I suppose since I'm a California paramedic, I must also admit that I'm a certified ambulance driver.
The assumption by many paramedics and EMTs is that being called an ambulance driver demeans the skill and training that we have. Perhaps my paramedic skills take a back seat when I'm referred to as a driver, but I can't deny that aspect of my job. On the other hand, it is helpful to us as a group if folks understand that ambulances need more than drivers in the modern EMS.
I agree with this perspective, which is why “ambulance driver,” as used in the headline, was a legitimate, descriptive use applicable to the action of the story, while it was also appropriate that Mr. Spadafora was characterized more generally as a “paramedic” in the story itself.
He is a paramedic who, at the time of the accident, was an ambulance driver. And we are all praying for his speedy recovery.


Blogger Doug said...

If a fireman was badly hurt in a crash, would you post FIRE TRUCK DRIVER?
If a police officer was badly hurt in a crash, would you post POLICE CAR DRIVER?

May 21, 2013 at 3:22 PM 
Blogger Miss Daisy said...

So you chose to defend using a pejorative term rather than admitting you made an unfortunate choice of words. You need a paramedic, to stop the bleeding.

You had an opportunity to improve your readers' understanding of a field, and you chose instead to defend your own ego. That says volumes.

May 21, 2013 at 3:46 PM 
Blogger Brendan Theobald said...

Happy EMS Week! Brendan Theobald, EMT, NOT ambulance driver.

May 21, 2013 at 3:58 PM 
Blogger EMT/FF 729 said...

Dear Uneducated Newpaper Writer,
It takes a special kind of person to deal with what we deal with on a regular basis. We constantly abandon our own families and friends for training which in turn takes us away even more to make sure your family is taken care of properly, consoled and reassured that everything is going to be alright. Mean while back at home...we have our very own problems that dont get taken care of or pushed aside.

Whether we are volunteer or paid .... not matter what patch we wear .... we will always stand togther and stay together as a FAMILY!

My hope for you is that you will never need a HIGHLY TRAINED PARAMEDIC or EMT because for you we will find "just an ambulance driver"

This upset EMT....not just an ambulance driver!

May 21, 2013 at 5:20 PM 
Blogger Unlimited-Unscheduled Hours said...

Tony, you stepped in it big time. You had no idea that you used a term EMS has been fighting for years. It is derogatory to those of us who earned the certification of EMT or EMT-P (what most folks call Paramedics).
Your true folly though was in not doing any further homework before blindly defending your unintentional faux pas.
The fact that so many people took offense to the headline should have been a pretty clear clue that you had in fact caused offense, whether you understood the 'whys' and 'wherefores' matters not. Add to this that you tried to convince these offended parties that they lack in reading comprehension skills just incites their rage, and understandably so. They are trying to educate you, and you are saying, in effect, that they don't know what they are talking about.
Anytime a firefighter wants to get and EMT's goat he will call him an 'Ambulance Driver' whether in jest or otherwise. The EMT will respond by calling the Firefighter a 'Hose Jockey'. Can you see yourself writing a headline that states "Hose Jockeys fight stubborn fire in apartment building for 6 hours". What kind of response would you expect? Are you beginning to understand yet?
P.S. We have a saying on emergency scenes "If you can keep your head while all those around you are losing theirs, then you just don't understand what the hell is going on here."

May 21, 2013 at 5:57 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So using "ambulance driver" saves space huh? Last time I checked the word paramedic and ambulance had the same number of words.
You don't call a nurse a butt wiper, although that is something a nurse does. You don't call a doctor a prescription writer, although that is part of their job. You shouldn't call a paramedic "ambulance driver" even though that is part of their job duties. Its a respect issue. You want to be respected as a journalist. So show the same respect to other professions as you would want to be shown for yours.

May 21, 2013 at 6:14 PM 
Blogger Lance Weeden said...

Dear computer jockey,
I worked in EMS for several years and would like to explain something to you. Those "Ambulance Drivers" are out there, day and night, putting themselves at risk to help complete strangers. They cure the sick and heal the injured, neither of which is done from the drivers seat of an ambulance.
If you call 911 and when the EMS personnel arrive, would you like an EMT or Paramedic to arrive and treat you, or an "ambulance driver" to simply drive you to the hospital? If so, just call a cab...
Lance Weeden

May 22, 2013 at 1:47 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, you realy have no idea how insulted the EMS community is by your statement and lack of apology. I'm lucky emough to have been part of this community and have a husband who not only works in the field but is a Flight paramedic. I'm very glad that he has a pilot not a Helicopter driver keeping him safe. He has missed many dinners, special events due to training or work. My family understands that he risks his life to save others. It takes a very special person to do what they do and making them feel second class isn't right and you should learn from your mistakes. Take the offer and ride one time and see how life really is. Writing about it and living it are very very diffrent.

May 22, 2013 at 6:55 AM 
Blogger David said...

You argue: "In most cases, we would not write ... 'Lifeguard badly hurt...'."

That may be true, but you also would not say "Guy who sits in tall chair with whistle badly hurt.

A simple, "I did not realize that anyone would ever take that as derogatory, I am sorry." would have stopped this backlash, and maybe won won over a few people who might just save your live one day..

May 22, 2013 at 8:58 AM 
Blogger Nicole Ruffalo Boo said...

A blatent disregard for all involved. You'd rather post a blog than apologize for something that I truly believe was unintentional. If you'd like...I can post to my several websites and social networks ...I have many for my business and get more opinions for you...although they don't seem too favorable for the most part...check out my blogger profile...I do more than EMS. I do EMS because I care, not because I have to.

May 22, 2013 at 12:47 PM 
Blogger Matt O'B said...

Wow, that was an obfuscatory digression worthy of the Obama administration! Clearly, if the reporter had wanted to indicate an unspecified individual behind the wheel of an ambulance, he could have written the headline as "Driver of Ambulance Badly Hurt in Crash." Apparently fluid use of the English language is in short supply among newspaper staff these days. Either way, it astounds me that someone whose profession is words - and who works in such a politically correct industry - could miss the fact that pretty much everyone who works in EMS considers "ambulance driver" to be an insulting term. Misrepresenting the intent of Rod Brouhard's piece, which is anything but a defense of the occasional use of "ambulance driver," simply adds insult to injury.

May 22, 2013 at 2:50 PM 
Blogger Brandon Shock said...

I really hope I'm the paramedic on scene when he needs help. Or the PA-C, in a few more months, when he enters the ER.

May 22, 2013 at 3:01 PM 
Blogger adamisisamoron said...

I love the fact that u continually try to justify your statements after the what u call " gentle" correction. You were disrespectful at every avenue in this discussion. I can't believe you are allowed to write such "journalistic "garbage. The daily Freeman must be hurting for some writers?? Own up to your mistake and stop. You have insulted the intelligence of thousands.. But beyond that How would u know it was a mistake?? Simple, well what dictionary, thesaurus do u, use?? It's OK, I have already sent u one!!! Exciting right!! Actually here is one you can use all the time. www.dictionary.com. use it all the time to save grief. And for God sake. Get some imagination. That u do lack


May 22, 2013 at 4:30 PM 
Blogger sheldon poisson said...

I understand the explanation about ambulance driver although if it was a police vehicle would the headline have been POLICE CAR DRIVER INJURED or a fire truck being FIRE TRUCK/ENGINE DRIVER INJURED?

May 23, 2013 at 11:50 AM 
Blogger Diya Moon said...

Paramedic staff always plays an important role in saving human life ,Paramedics could be a driver, a student or a person who has taken first aid training. Doesn't matter who you are? a driver or a doctor, if you are doing work to save the humanity ,you are doing a great deed.

June 12, 2013 at 9:55 PM 

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