“Somebody should do something.”
Yes, somebody should. Because for sure, even a mountain of the best intentions alone, do not make things better.
Facta non verba is a Latin term for ‘actions, not words.’ It is so simply stated, yet so impactful in effect; I think it may be the perfect first responder motto.
Facta non verba is really a statement about energy transition - potential energy into kinetic energy. It is the conversion point where what we believe transforms into who we are, who we are becoming in life. It is about moving purposefully through this world and positively affecting people along the way.
Facta non verba is a formula for revealing the immense power of humanity inside each of us and changing the world, one decent act at a time.
Does this seem at all familiar?
“Action is character.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ask almost any emergency service member “what Is your job” and they will likely answer - to save lives. Extrication, rescue carries, intravenous lines, medications, ECGs, trauma care, placing airways - this is not a work from home career. You have to show up.
A single day on the job of a first responder can have quite a bit of action.
So, there you go. Saving lives, rarrrr. It’s what we do.
But what about when it is not time to save lives?
How do we act then?
When there is no overturned vehicle with trapped passengers, when there is no unconscious subject that requires immediate resuscitation, when there is no one hanging out of the 3rd floor window of a burning building - what is the right thing to do?
Perfect execution, a 10 out of 10 on the skill sheet; it exists. There is a skill ceiling.
For most physical actions in life, it can only be done so well - to the sum total of perfect.
Sure, there can be a few creative approaches, different paths to the perfect performance, but it still remains that an IV start, the placement of an advanced airway, a tourniquet application; can only be done so well. There is a ‘maximum score.’
There is a limit on skill.
However, there is no limit on character.
2021. New year, new chapter, new road, whatever we want to call it.
Have you heard this statement yet - ‘wow, 2020 sucked. I hope 2021 is a better year.’ (Maybe you’ve heard it, maybe you’ve said it yourself.)
Well, heads up, friends - hope is not a plan.
This is not to say that an optimistic mind set or having dreams is a bad thing, because they certainly are not. But, positive thoughts alone do not move the needle when it is time to go out and do the hard things In life. Well wishes do not carry the sick and wounded to safety at 2 am. Good intentions mean zip-squat without the action and follow through.
We simply can not hope and dream a better 2021 into existence.
What we should be doing is getting rock solid on our values, conditioning ourselves for resilience, setting high standards and taking consistent action.
Want a new paradigm for your next year? Start with the next 30 days, better yet, start in the next week - with what you control.
You don’t need another article telling you that it has been a difficult year. You certainly don’t need to be told, by the numbers, that the worst is yet to come.
You’re in the job. You have the marks on your face and the fatigue in your eyes.
This is not a ‘work from home profession.’ It never has been. Trauma, sickness, natural disasters and now a global pandemic; to be in this service line and to answer the call, you have to go out there.
In fact, here is a cold truth. The most predictable certainty in this unpredictable service is that there is going to be another emergency, another fire, another crash. There are always going to be more in need of help. There is going to be another patient, in fact, thousands of them.
And there you will be, making things better because you are a part of it.
It’s what you do.
The mission does not stop.
That is the exact reason for this article. To highlight one more time the touchstone of why we do what we do - to bring the best of humanity to the worst of conditions.
Today, maybe now more than ever, what we bring with us to the line makes the difference. Think about it. It’s easy to be a good person when things are going smoothly. It’s when things get difficult and the pressure is on that we are revealed for what we are. Something I have personally learned this 15th year into the job is that it is not always about the work we are doing, but sometimes it is about the person we become while doing it. Because cover to cover, this work is about people. The mission is about becoming better people.
And, the mission does not stop.
In these moments we either get washed back by the surge or we rise.
You don’t need another article telling you this job isn't for everyone, because you know that too. You know that this is a job for people of exceptional character. But what you might need, is a reminder that character isn’t just some service slogan or internal belief that we hold for ourselves. No, character is the sum of the actions we take. It is our behavior, most especially when it matters most, like right now.
Because the mission does not stop.
Yes, it has been a hard year. There has been plenty of bad news and some of it has been real close to home. The hours have seemingly grown longer, the job has almost completely changed in its appearance.
People ask you, ‘aren’t you exhausted?’
You think about it, and with so many challenging experiences in your head, in the moment, no one could blame you for admitting, ‘yeah, and I think I’ve had enough.’
But you won’t. Sure, there will come a day when you can’t physically or emotionally do this work anymore. But today is not that day.
Because you know that the work itself is not exhausting, only unfulfilling work is.
Because pumping through a servant heart is the purpose, integrity and courage to leave things better than you found them.
Because you know all of this has made you what you are.
Because maybe, when that person in desperate need is in front of you, that moment right then; maybe that is the moment for which you were created.
History is watching.
There is an epidemic going on right now that has been festering in various forms, for decades. Its symptoms include a lack of accountability, indecision, apathy, failure to honor who we really are, playing the victim, and perhaps worst of all, sitting quiet and idle when the world needs us to stand up and contribute to a greater good. This epidemic is due to a deficiency of courage.
Courage is a mindset. It is not an inherited super-power nor an exclusive gift of a few heroes among us. Courage is a chosen behavior. It is the conversion point between our deepest beliefs and our actions. It is what makes some people step forward and change the world around them for the better; when sitting passively safe, uncriticized and comfortable was also an option.
Courage is often mistaken as the absence of fear, when in fact, the opposite is true. Fear is prerequisite to courage. It is because we fear life’s challenges and that we have our own internal doubts that we can bring forth a courageous state of mind.
“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”
Fair warning - this might sting a little. First, here is a short summary.
Say the words complacency in EMS, and most of us will nod in unison and conjure images of the “corner cutters” that work in the profession. These are the providers that know the policies and they know the protocols, but when in action, they deviate from the expected - pretty regularly. Their practice gets sloppy and their patient care delivery becomes a liability. Their attention to crew safety parameters gets lowered, situational awareness becomes hazed with distractions. When they cut enough corners, when they continuously drift from the established protocols and consistently deviate from safety practices someone eventually is going to be hurt or worse. In the end, overtly complacent providers in a profession as complex as first response are dangerous. It is worth repeating here and posting on the walls at our stations - complacency kills.
All of this is pretty well understood and agreed upon. At some point we, the ‘rule followers,’ feel pretty good about ourselves after we have the conversation on complacency. We fist bump and say things like “yeah, I know providers like that,” or “we should weed them out,” or “if they’re not here for the right reason, there’s the door, man.” More fist bumps ensue.
But, what if after all the lectures at the conferences and all the safety notices at the work meetings, and after all the corner-cutting hazards have been discharged from the profession - there is still another level of complacent providers left?
Wait for it - I am talking about us, the rule followers.
What they are, what they are not, and where we need to go.
The patch represents competence, not excellence.
Line up a dozen first responders with the same patch on their shoulders and we can declare all of them competent. They passed the course and then the tests and then they were awarded the patch. Competence, check mark.
Excellence is another level.
Excellence is the compound made of refined practices and effective human principles.
It is knowing both how to do things right and when to do the right thing. It begins inside of us, in our values and it takes form in the world, through our actions.
Excellence is the step by step realization of our own potential as both responders and useful humans in a community. Excellence is the property outside of our comfort zones.
Never stop improving. Never stop learning. Never stop reaching.
The badge doesn’t speak for us, our actions do.
Patches and badges do not embody courage or integrity- our decisions and our actions do. Everyday, every call, every moment in front of another person is that very unique opportunity that this profession affords us - the chance to leave things better than we found them. The chance to make a positive impact on another’s life. Regardless of the uniform or the vehicle we arrive, it is our deeds that will make the difference.
Commit to never missing that chance.
The badge is bestowed authority, not leadership.
Quite honestly, a given rank does not equate to the ability to lead. True leadership is not a position that is attained, rather, it is a service that is given.
Leaders inspire and elevate others, they highlight the cause and they take down barriers to allow others to improve themselves. Leadership is not permission to do less, it is a heavy responsibility to do more.
Having trouble finding leaders around you? Step up, set examples in your work, challenge yourself and your fellow responders. Teach with full respect, listen with deep intent and humbly lead from the middle.
The job marks out the tasks, not the mission.
The mission is to bring the best of humanity to the worst of conditions. This is not easy on any given day. That is why first response is a calling, not a career. This work requires accountability to our neighbors and a commitment to prepare, respond without bias and always be improving.
Fact - better people make better responders. We need to strive to be the responder we would want answering the call of our own family’s emergency.
The patch represents legacy, not completion.
Quite simply, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Those before us blazed trails, they discovered, they made a difference, they made mistakes, adapted and pushed forward. When we put on the patch, we are taking our place on this progress path. We now have a duty to move forward, over, around and right through the obstacles and the adversity.
To note, I was very careful to not use the word ‘tradition’ where I used the word legacy, as traditions are often just an excuse for reactions without thought.
Our profession, for sure, benefits from protocols and standardization. But, we must balance this with a strong situational awareness to the effectiveness of our practices. What is working and what is not? To move forward, we need to observe, assess and adapt. We need to listen to thought, debate with reason and make impactful decisions with all of the information.
What about our principles? To move forward we need to regularly take out our convictions, and vigorously shake them down to look for unhealthy biases, prejudices and assumptions. “The way we have always done things” doesn’t fly here, when lives are on the line and there is a better process awaiting discovery. There simply are no absolutes.
All of this leads to one patch, emblematic of a much larger group that faces challenges together, grows through just struggle and rallies to answer the call of those in need.
This patch does not assume leadership, but rather, inspires us to step forward.
This patch does not symbolize perfection or completion, but rather a state of constant evolution. This patch does not pretend to have a perfect legacy, but it does provide a powerful glimpse of what is possible.
This patch represents the encompassing first responder values of purpose, integrity and courage.
This patch represents service. This patch represents opportunity.
This patch, when it is all said and done, unites us as a profession and as the community we serve.
This patch was made possible by unmeasurable sacrifice.
We should work to earn this particular patch, in and out of uniform, everyday.
Stay safe everyone and do amazing things.
We are about to witness one of the most contested and complex ‘back to school’ seasons in modern times. All Summer, families across the nation have been struggling with the decision to either send their students back to brick and mortar schools or to keep their students at home and continue enrollment in the continuously developing forward learning programs.
Despite the benefits and deficits of each option, anxiety is palpable across the education landscape as students, teachers, administrators and families scramble this week to adjust to a ‘new normal.’ This year’s students are returning to mandatory masks, empty seats on school buses, hand sanitizing stations, no shared supplies, limited hands on labs and eating lunch at a classroom table, by themselves. There will be limited sports, music and arts. There will be no pep rally, no Homecoming, no school play and no school dances. Hallways will be traversed one grade level at a time, one way, single file, 6 feet apart. Many more students will experience the first day of school from the kitchen table, through the screen of a laptop.
It would not be too much of a stretch for one to say that the immediate future for this school year is unknown, the back to school plan is ever changing, the implementations will be at times, chaotic. The overall mood, could for sure, be described as dark.
“In a time of turbulence and change, it is more important than ever that knowledge is power.”
-John F. Kennedy
However, we can all say that we are sending our students back with confidence, because America’s teachers will be there with them. For generations, teachers have represented the demarcation between a disordered and unknown world and a life of confidence and potential. I feel it is time they get their own thin line.
This entire pandemic experience is going to make us better.
In the end, it will all come down to the decisions we make and the way we choose to move forward.
So here’s a story about my father, boats, and holding our course.
My dad served in the Navy when he was young and it was beyond obvious to anyone that ever met him, the impact that his sailing experiences had on him. The Navy had left him with a passion for the water.
From ocean faring on a massive battleship to fishing the local lakes where we grew up, to cruising the mighty and magnificent St. Lawrence River, when we had the time, the water was the place to be. We always had a family boat, from speedy family ski boats to the simplest aluminum fisher. Each boat was bought used, had older model motors and often times after market equipment, but to me, every one of our boats represented the perfect manifestation of proficiency and preparation.
My dad would equip, maintain and prepare a boat like nothing else. His decades old engines were tuned to perfection. The gas tank was rarely below full and the boat was always clean. Safety items were non-negotiable. There were the standard items like life jackets, ropes, lights and oars, but there was also always spare gas, a hand scribbled parts lists and the most reliable item of all - his tool box.
Yet, beyond the nautical gear, tools and gas, was the true mainsail of our boat life; my old man’s presence. The most valuable nautical asset ever in our family boat was the sum and substance of his experiences, interests and curiosities about the waterways. My dad was a student of the entire process. Maybe that’s why we also call a boat a craft.
Regardless of a pleasure cruise, a fishing trip or a simple ferrying of camp supplies, he would read the water and the skies continuously. He would study the depths and the shallows, call out the perpetual landmarks on shore and he always gave the known shoals plenty of berth. He knew when to be on the throttle and when to let her skim. In those rare events where nature defied prediction, I always admired the man’s ability to adjust to the storm and navigate on.
“A ship at harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Something feels different.
What the hell is it? You tell me.
Fear? Anxiety? Uncertainty? Panic? Loneliness?
My neighborhood, your neighborhood; I’m sure they look very similar. Empty parks, empty streets, no kids at school bus stops, vacant campuses, restaurants and stores are all closed and even if we do get out of the house, we find people in masks passing each other, further apart than they ever used to.
It’s like we’ve all been placed into a national ‘time out.’
“Go stand in the corner by yourself. Think about your decisions. Think about what matters.”
Nothing like a global pandemic to serve as a great big, stinging slap in the face reminder - we do not control what happens. We only control our response.
So lets do this. Let’s take on the crisis, reframe things and tell ourselves what we’re really feeling.