What is a Paramedic?

Battalion Chief Doug Smith(Photo: kevin Fitsimons, WOSU)

Meet Battalion Chief Doug Smith, City of Columbus, Division of Fire, Public Information Officer

What exactly does a paramedic do?
With the Columbus Fire Department, you’re not only a paramedic, you’re also a firefighter. So, first you have to go into the Academy, then after about three years, you’ll have the opportunity to become a paramedic. And what a paramedic actually does is to go to scenes where people are having heart attacks, strokes or an auto accident and help people out.

Describe a typical day.

There is no typical day. You never know what you’ll get into. We work for 24 straight hours, and you never know what will come up. You might have a day when you have only 4 or 5 runs, and you might have a day that has 22 runs. You just never know.

What’s the coolest part of your job?
A lot of it is right there: Not knowing what you’re going to walk into when you come into work that day. Probably one of the neatest things is being able to go out and help people. When people call 911 they’re probably having one of the worst days of their life, and what’s nice is being able to get on the scene and help somebody out.

What’s your favorite part?
Helping and teaching people.

How do people react when they meet a paramedic?
There’s a lot of enthusiasm about it. People are excited to find out about the job, and they want to know more about it. Typically, you’ll start talking about a couple runs, and soon people will ask you about every run that you’ve ever been on.

How does somebody become a paramedic?
First you need strong interest in doing something like this, because there’s going to be situations that you see that aren’t very pleasant. So if you have that mindset that you really want to help people and you can over look the bad things, get on the fire department, become a firefighter. And once you become a firefighter, they’ll offer you a chance to become a paramedic. If you take that advantage and become a paramedic, it’s a very interesting job.

What are the disappointments about the job?
Disappointing is when you work real hard to try to help somebody and the outcome doesn’t exactly come out the way you want it to. A lot of times we work on people who do not survive, and sometimes that’s really tough.

How has the job changed over time?
Technology and the medicine have changed so much. We’re doing things today that we weren’t even thinking about doing ten years ago. We can pace a person’s heart – attach pads to someone’s chest and turn on a machine and actually help beat a person’s heart is very exciting. We can intubate – put a tube down into people’s lungs so that they can breathe better. Medicine is evolving, and we are evolving with it.

How will the job be different ten years from now?
Ten years from now, the backs of the medic units might be little operating rooms. The training will be a little bit longer, but the more that doctors and emergency rooms are confident that we can do more things, the more we’ll be able to do out in the field.

What are some of the most important skills and abilities needed for this job?
Make sure you have a love for the job. It’s a very exciting job, and you’ll run into different things every single day, some of them might not be pleasant, but other times it turns out to be really great. Make sure you have a passion for medicine, but also it helps to be a good people person. Be able to work with people. Remember, you’re going to see people at their worst. It might not be an emergency to you, but you have to understand that it’s an emergency to them, so you have to treat them with dignity, and treat them as though they were a family member.

What do you wish someone had told you before you left high school that would’ve helped you with your career?
Study a little harder. What you learn in high school will stick with all of your life.