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EMTs and Paramedics

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics care for the sick or injured in emergency medical settings. People’s lives often depend on their quick reaction and competent care. EMTs and paramedics respond to emergency calls, performing medical services and transporting patients to medical facilities. Show Details

A 911 operator sends EMTs and paramedics to the scene of an emergency, where they often work with police and firefighters. For more information, see the profiles on police and detectives and firefighters. Show Details

Duties

EMTs and paramedics typically do the following:

  • Respond to 911 calls for emergency medical assistance, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or bandaging a wound
  • Assess a patient’s condition and determine a course of treatment
  • Follow guidelines that they learned in training and that they receive from physicians who oversee their work
  • Use backboards and restraints to keep patients still and safe in an ambulance for transport
  • Help transfer patients to the emergency department of a healthcare facility and report their observations and treatment to the staff
  • Create a patient care report; documenting the medical care they gave the patient
  • Replace used supplies and check or clean equipment after use

When taking a patient to the hospital, one EMT or paramedic may drive the ambulance while another monitors the patient's vital signs and gives additional care. Some paramedics work as part of a helicopter's flight crew to transport critically ill or injured patients to a hospital.

EMTs and paramedics also take patients from one medical facility to another. Some patients may need to be transferred to a hospital that specializes in treating their injury or illness or to a facility that provides long-term care, such as a nursing home.

If a patient has a contagious disease, EMTs and paramedics decontaminate the interior of the ambulance and may need to report these cases to the proper authorities.

The specific responsibilities of EMTs and paramedics depend on their level of training and the state they work in. The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) provides national certification of EMTs and paramedics at four levels: EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate (which has two levels, respectively called 1985 and 1999), and Paramedic. Some states, however, have their own certification programs and use different titles.

An EMT-Basic, also known as an EMT, cares for patients at the scene and while taking patients by ambulance to a hospital. An EMT-Basic has the emergency skills to assess a patient's condition and manage respiratory, cardiac, and trauma emergencies.

An EMT-Intermediate (1985 or 1999), also known as Advanced EMT, has completed the training required at the EMT-Basic level, as well as training for more advanced skills, such as the use of intravenous fluids and some medications.

Paramedics provide more extensive prehospital care than do EMTs. In addition to carrying out the procedures that EMTs use, paramedics can give medications orally and intravenously, interpret electrocardiograms (EKGs)—used to monitor heart function—and use other monitors and complex equipment.

The specific tasks or procedures EMTs and paramedics are allowed to perform at any level vary by state.

Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

Police, fire, and ambulance dispatchers, also called 9-1-1 operators or public safety telecommunicators, answer emergency and non-emergency calls. They take information from the caller and send the appropriate type and number of units. Show Details

Duties

Police, fire and ambulance dispatchers typically do the following:

  • Answer 9-1-1 telephone calls
  • Determine, from the caller, the type of emergency and its location
  • Decide the appropriate emergency response based on agency policies and procedures
  • Relay information to the appropriate emergency or non-emergency service agency or agencies
  • Coordinate sending emergency response personnel 
  • Give over-the-phone medical help and other instructions before emergency personnel get to the scene
  • Monitor and track the status of police, fire, and ambulance units on assignment
  • Synchronize responses with other area communication centers
  • Keep detailed records about calls

Dispatchers answer calls for service when someone needs help from police, fire fighters, emergency services, or a combination of the three. They take both emergency and non-emergency calls.

Dispatchers must stay calm while collecting vital information from callers to determine the severity of a situation. They then give the appropriate first responder agencies information about the call.

Some dispatchers only take calls. Others only use radios to send appropriate personnel. Many dispatchers do both tasks.

Dispatchers keep detailed records about the calls that they take. They may use a computer system to log important facts, such as the name and location of the caller.

They may also use crime databases, maps, and weather reports, when helping emergency response teams. Dispatchers may monitor alarm systems, alerting law enforcement or fire personnel when a crime or fire occurs. In some situations, dispatchers must work with people in other jurisdictions to share information or to transfer calls.

Dispatchers must often give instructions on what to do before responders arrive. Some dispatchers are trained to give medical help over the phone, For example, they might help someone give first aid until emergency medical services get to the scene.

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