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April 2, 2012

EMTs v. Street Medics: Different as Night and Day

Rixey Browning

The world of being a street medic is vastly different from being a state-certified emergency medical technician (EMT). I have found myself providing both scopes of care, and although the injuries may be the same, the jobs themselves are vastly different.


As a street medic you never ask someone what their name is, only what they want to be called. There is a stark difference between the two. You never try to call the police or an ambulance for a patient unless they specifically ask for it.


Most importantly, you are not an authority figure and you must not act like one. You and your patient make medical decisions together, as a team.


Being a street medic is fast-paced, requires quick decision-making, and involves a lot more effort in protecting patient privacy than the average 911 call does. I find myself carrying around homemade pepper spray remedies, tons of bleeding control equipment, and a pocket mask to be used during CPR.


The only equipment I have is what is available on my back and in my surroundings, which means I have to be mindful of the types of injuries I am most likely to see on the streets of New York City, as opposed to being prepared for any and every scenario. Soft tissue injuries are the most common, as the police have become increasingly brutal toward Occupy Wall Street protesters – I myself have been a victim of this.


Treating patients in a public space can be a challenge. The media is curious about street medics. We are unseen, unheard, slip between walls of people to get access to our patients. We are some of the most mysterious members of the protests, aside from the gaudy red duct tape crosses on our arms.


Generally, we ask fellow protesters to form a human circle around us as we treat someone, to keep cameras and curious eyes away to ensure our patient is comfortable and we have the space to provide the necessary care.


Furthermore, these human shields protect the injured from being trampled by other protesters during a march – and from the police.


More often than not, as an EMT, I find myself in a safe situation, with the time and space necessary to provide textbook-worthy care. On the streets, the element of danger is ever-present. The risk of getting arrested is a constant, as it happens at the most unexpected times.


Street medics and EMTs are both protected by the Good Samaritan Law. Without the restrictions of state protocols, however, I have found that I have been able to provide better care to my patients on the streets than as an EMT. Instead of calling medical control and asking to give someone something as simple as an aspirin, on the streets I can simply hand a patient a Tylenol.


I am not saying that EMTs, or other emergency medical providers, cannot provide good care. They have more equipment at their disposal to ensure that a patient’s life is saved, which is a gamble that street medics take with only donated supplies that they carry around. However, sometimes the cumbersome state protocols can get in the way of providing a patient with fast and effective care.


Despite the differences between both types of care, I am continually challenged and stimulated by emergency medical care. Regardless of patient background, or the environment we are in, it is imperative that those who need medical care receive it in an efficient and professional manner. At the end of the day, that is all that we as street medics and EMTs can hope to give.


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