LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Parademics and EMTs (Emergency Medical Technician) play an important role in the community: they are the first responders who deliver crucial, some times life-saving care on the scene of accidents or disasters. 7News spoke to one local Paramedic about what it takes to be one of the most depended-upon professions, as well as the realities of the job.
Mike Richard has been a paramedic for Acadian Ambulance for over 10 years. He says he decided in junior high to pursue the career.
“I just like to help people and I always have from that age. I remember, when I was in middle school, there was an ambulance that came to school. Somebody got hurt or something. I remember watching them and thinking, ‘wow, I want to do that.’ And from that moment, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Can you explain the different between an EMT and a Paramedic?
“An EMT is a basic level provider. They do more of the basic life-saving skills. A Paramedic is what we consider an advanced-level provider. So, they can do more invasive techniques; intubations, IVs, medication administrations, that kind of stuff.”
How does one become a Paramedic?
“To become a Paramedic, first, you have to be an EMT. That’s about a three-month course. Acadian actually has a hybrid online course now where you can do most of your course study online and then you do skills check off with an instructor. Once you’re an EMT you can then transition to become a Paramedic. That transition takes 12 to 15 months worth of training and classes. I think it’s a 1,250 hours in total. That’s classroom instruction, clinicals at the hospital and on the ambulance, then skills check off with your instructors in class. It’s constant; every day. You either work or you go to school when you’re in Paramedic school. There’s no in-between. There’s no time off. You may have a little break in the middle of class, but it’s every single day because we work shift work. So, you work Monday/Tuesday, then you’ll have class Wednesday/Thursday, then you have your three-day shift on the weekend and then the next week, it flips.”
As an EMT or Paramedic, you’re always learning.
“As a Paramedic, you should never stop learning. Every two years, we have to re-certify. So, we have to do 70 hours of re-certification training every two years. It’s a constant learning process. Medicine is always evolving, so we have to change with it. We can’t just stay stuck where we were.”
Describe a typical shift.
“A typical shift is 12 hours. We do have some 24-hour trucks in the outlying areas, but there isn’t a ‘typical’ shift in EMS. I could start my shift right here in Lake Charles and by the time I’m supposed to get off I could be in New Orleans because a critical patient had to go now and they couldn’t wait for us to make shift change. You’ll run a gambit of calls; meaning, I might pick up a grandma who fell and just needs help up and then they want to drink coffee and visit and then I may respond to someone’s worst day and they might find their newborn infant not breathing in the crib. It goes from one extreme to another and you have to be prepared for that.”
Can you tell us about the relationship EMTs and Paramedics have with other first responders?
“We try to have an open line of communication with everyone. Sheriff’s Department, State Police, fire departments. A lot of times, for medical supplies, if we run a call with the fire department and we are at a car accident and they need a box of gloves, we will toss them a box off the ambulance. We run these calls with these guys every day. They become family.”
What is the worst thing you’ve seen on the job?
“I think the worst thing for me is seeing the families reactions to bad news, You know when something happens, it may not necessarily be a gruesome call. I can deal with that stuff. That’s why I got into this. I mean, that’s no problem. The hard part is just seeing people reacting to the information. I mea,n this is the worst day of their life and we are right in the middle of it. You start to see things differently. When I started doing this, I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids. Once I got married and had children and I had to tell a wife that her husband of 60 years is diseased, that’s the hardest thing you can deal with because you are the closest person to them at that point. There’s no one there, this happened suddenly, and so they kind of heap a lot of emotion on you. The best thing you can do is be empathetic, you know? I tell new paramedics all the time, you can push every drug in the bag, you can do the coolest techniques we can do, and all these cool interventions that we do, but people are going to remember you’re empathy. They’re going to remember on their worst day, you were there for them. You cared for them. You were understanding and you helped them through that moment until family could get there to take over for you.”
What is the best thing you’ve seen on the job?
“I think the best thing I see is the comradery. People come together to get the job done. They may not like it in the moment and it may be frustrating because it feels like we are constantly being pushed, but the public needs us, so we know we need to get back in service as quickly as we can. Everyone comes together and makes it happen. Like I said, we may be frustrated at the time, but we know at the end of the day we all have each other’s back and we are all doing the best we can to get through twelve hours.”
What would you say to someone interested in your profession?
“A lot goes into it. It’s not just the lights and sirens and we aren’t just ambulance drivers. We are partners in health care with hospitals and doctors and everyone else. So, it’s not just as simple as putting on a uniform, wearing a pair of gloves, and riding around in an ambulance making a lot of noise. There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s a very high-stress job, but it’s also a very rewarding job. You get out of it what you put into it. The good thing is you can get an EMT license in three months and you can work as a BLS (Basic Life Support) provider and kind of get a taste for it to see if this is something you really want to do and go to the next step and become a paramedic. Most people become EMTs to get patient care experience before going to medical school. Some people have the intention of doing that, and then they, as we like to call it, end up getting bit by the bug, get stuck, and never leave because they love it so much.”
Richard says if you are interested in the profession, you can visit their website or call their switch board at 337-291-3333. He says you can schedule a ride-along and for high school students, they have an Explorer Program, where the post advisers are active in almost every high school in Calcasieu Parish according to Richard. He says it’s a program provided through a partnership with the Boy Scouts. In the program, high-schoolers get their own uniform and get to ride-along in an ambulance. He says they meet once a month and the post advisers are EMTs and Paramedics themselves and train with the students. He says the program allows high-schoolers the chance to look at a possible career at a young age.
Richard says there are around 150 field workers in Southwest Louisiana. There are over 250,000 EMTs and Paramedics in the U.S.