I don’t often write about my work as an EMT; if I do, I only write about other incidents in other states. This is one of those cases, one I cannot ignore any longer.
Much has been made of an incident in New York on December 9 of last year. Two EMT-B’s from FDNY, Jason Green and Melissa Jackson, were on their way out the door at the Au Bon Pain at Metrocenter Plaza when an employee of the restaurant approached them and told them that one of her co-workers was having difficulty breathing. They told the employee to call 911. Jackson made the first call, telling a dispatcher that a woman of unknown age was having difficulty breathing. Both were in uniform.
A lot has been said about this case since it happened. Thanks to the inability of the media to verify facts before reporting something, we largely don’t know what’s true and what isn’t. We know how the family feels. We know that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg was disgusted when the story broke. When asked if city employees were experiencing burnout, he exploded, saying, “there’s no excuse whatsoever!” I could tell mr. Bloomberg where to shove his self-righteous indignation but it would be unprofessional of me.
Bloggers and media reporters alike have called Green and Jackson lazy, cruel, heartless, cold, and inhuman. EMT’s and paramedics from all over the country have ripped into both of them, saying it is unconscionable that they left without providing care (and those are just the nicer ones; those who believe that their flatulence has no odor have posted far worse in the ems/fire/rescue blogs). So, what’s my opinion?
Both the unbaptized public and the professional EMS service have been far too hard on Green and Jackson.
We don’t know the true circumstances of what was going on. Several news agencies have painted a picture that pregnant Eutisha Rennix, an employee of the restaurant, collapsed right in front of them and was gasping for air when they cold-heartedly turned their backs on her. Others have said the pair was sitting down. What I’ve actually been told by others actually in EMS in New York is that Rennix had gone to the back, away from customers, when she began feeling ill and a coworker came out to ask the EMT’s what to do. That’s not all I’m going on, though.
The two EMT’s weren’t driving an ambulance rig that was waiting outside. They were dispatchers working in the building directly above the restaurant. Without an ambulance handy, they had no specialized equipment. No BSI (body substance isolation) gear, nothing. They didn’t even have an oxygen tank to help. What were they expected to do? I’ve been in a couple of situations where I’ve either been at the scene of an accident or someone has started having trouble breathing, and someone says, “please help!” I can’t do anything without the equipment I’m trained to use. I end up standing there like an idiot going, “um…there’s nothing I can do.” Then, when an ambulance actually does arrive, I’m just in the way. I’m another body filling space that they need to work in.
Something else worth mentioning is their level of training. EMT-B’s are not paramedics. We’re BASIC medical providers. There’s a lot we can do, but there’s a lot that we can’t. EMT-B’s cannot provide breathing treatments with albuterol even if we have the equipment; that’s what our paramedic partners do. Once the treatment begins, we can monitor the patient for a change in vital signs to see if the treatment is having an effect, but we can’t give all the drugs and use the same toys that medics can.
Now…regardless of what I’ve heard or what you’ve heard from the news or people who say they heard this news from a reliable source, we can all agree on a few things that are facts. The EMT’s were in the restaurant. Eutisha Rennix was in respiratory distress. The EMT’s didn’t have an ambulance or equipment. The EMT’s would not have been able to do much of anything even if they had gone to see the patient. They certainly wouldn’t have been able to make the paramedic unit that was called arrive any faster. If they had stayed, Rennix likely still would have died, and the family would have wanted to sue the EMT’s for not having anything with them when they went to the restaurant.
The local anger over this incident is twofold. First of all, the family is angry that Eutisha is dead. If it were my family, I’d be upset, too. They, like many other families I’ve seen in the press, have been too quick to blame the EMS service that was charged with helping because the situation didn’t end the way they wanted it to. We never want to lose our loved ones. But just as the family of a violent felon cannot blame the police officer who kills him to avoid being shot himself, I say families need to stop blaming EMS for bad outcomes that we can’t help. God knows we all live with the faces of those we couldn’t help for the rest of our lives. We don’t deserve to be threatened with losing our livelihood. We also don’t deserve to have to second-guess ourselves because we’ve been sued for similar situations before.
The second part of the local anger is from the city leaders and politicians. As they frequently do, they’ve again inserted themselves into a situation that they know little about because of public outrage. Why is the public so angry? Because they heard bits and pieces of a story and they don’t understand it all. The politicians are now reacting based on people calling them in that rage. To a degree, they’re doing what comes naturally to them. I would really like to know what is so difficult about these politicians asking people to wait until the whole story has come out before they pass judgment. Even more, I’d like to know how these politicians sleep at night after they tear down the career of a person who may well be innocent before they know all the facts.
For a couple of weeks afterward, we heard quite a bit. The story dropped off the collective MSM radar until yesterday, when EMT Jason Green was shot to death outside a popular Soho nightclub called the Greenhouse. If NYPD expects us all to believe the shooting had nothing to do with the Rennix incident, they’re deluding themselves.