Josh Sauberman

To EMT Or Not To EMT?… That is the Question.

As FireCareer’s youngest and most inexperienced blogger in terms of firefighting/fire-career experience (excluding Dr. Jen Milus who works with firefighters, but is not one),  my value to readers is my ability to see things quite clearly from your point of view.   That is of course because I am living, or have just gone through exactly what you’re going through.  Unlike the other accomplished fire veterans who write here at FireCareers, I do not have decades of experience.  I’m a new guy like you, working hard to catch my break and earn my badge.

As a reminder, I started pursuing my fire career two years ago when I was 33.  I knew nothing except that I had found a worthy pursuit in a fire career.  What I quickly learned, as you should already know, is that EMS is a major component of the fire service.  Enrolling in an EMT class is Paul Card’s first of 5 things you should do to get a fire job, and rightfully so.  As Paul points out, medical emergencies make up over 80% of the calls firefighters respond to.

The issue I want to address is not whether you should become an EMT or Paramedic, the answer is “Yes!” to  both of those; but rather when, how and why you should do it.

When I went back to school to earn my Associates in Fire Science, I quit my job and enrolled in 21 credits of fire classes including my EMT class.  By the end of the following summer session I had my degree.  I did a lot fast, but I had to as my savings would only last so long.  I immediately got a job working as an EMT which brings me (4 paragraphs in) to my first real point:

Can you afford to work as an EMT?

The experience is invaluable, there’s no question.  I worked as an EMT for 6 months while I attended the fire academy.  During this time I ate a lot of beans (just ask my fellow academy cadets).  I was poor!  EMT’s make on average $9-$14/hour and the benefits are often limited (I paid for my own).  I was 34 and living on my own, but what is your situation?

Do you live at home?  Do you have roomates?  Do you have a working spouse or partner?  Do you have some kind of loan or benefactor?  If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these you may be able to afford to work as an EMT.  If not, you’ll struggle as I did.  Even if you have to struggle, what I’ve learned is that it is so valuable to get that struggle out of the way early.  This brings me to my second point…..

Are you going to become a Paramedic?

I considered titling this section “Do you want to be a Paramedic?”, but want is a side note.  These days you practically have to be a medic in order to get hired, so take the questions above and amplify them… Can you afford it is no longer a question of modest earnings, but rather the cost of more schooling.   Where I live, the most popular Medic school costs $10,000 to attend (make sure you pass the first time!!).

Keep in mind, this 7 month course requires substantial time commitments between class and study time.  Working a full time job is do-able, but you’ll be a hermit for those 7 months.  If you work a typical Mon-Fri 9-5, you’ll need to find a weekend-only class.  When the didactic (instructional) portion is done, you’ll move on to clinicals and a preceptorship.  All in all, it averages out to an 18 month commitment.

A number of my friends and academy graduates just went through a paramedic course. I didn’t think I could afford it at the time and I waited.  Now I’m sorry I did.  My schedule now is busier than before and while I can better afford it now, I have much less time.   If you’re fortunate enough to have any of the financial support I mentioned in the EMT section, take advantage of it!

Do you want to be an EMT?

If you answer “no” to this question it’s time to seriously rethink a career in fire.  If being a paramedic is not at the top of your list, that’s Ok, but EMS (and being a competent EMT-B) is what being an emergency responder is all about.   Fires are such a small part of what we do.  If fire is your only interest, consider a career in pyrotechnics.

I remember the first ride-along I ever went on.  I spent the majority of the day with a 25 year old probie who loved the job, but he had no interest in becoming a paramedic.  He didn’t want the responsibility or risk.  He pointed out the fact that medics earn more, but also carry greater liability for risk of mistakes which could possibly cost them their jobs.  He was happy as a firefighter/EMT.

If you’re unsure, get a job as an EMT and spend enough time working to make an informed decision about where you’d like to take it.  Odds are you’ll find the more you do it, the more you like it.

The answer is….

Of course there is no black and white answer.  What you ultimately decide to do will be the cumulative result of what you can afford in regard to your time, money and life requirements.  Recent high school or college graduates will find it much easier than a brand new parent with a spouse and mortgage to worry about.   If there was an answer, it would be to take opportunities when they present themselves.   Pardon the cliché, but it turns out, haste really does make waste.

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