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EMT: What I do and how much I make

Ian Kelsey, an EMT Firefighter, shares his daily routine, duties, and challenges. He assists paramedics, handles emergencies, and advocates for patients. Despite the emotional and physical demands, he finds gratification in helping others. His income ranges from $28,000 to $34,000 with overtime. Fitness and mental preparedness are key to his role.

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Video transcript

My name is Ian Kelsey, 25 years old. My job title is EMT Fire Fighter with Chatham Emergency Services. My annual income is 28 to base income with 32, 34 with overtime. As an EMT I am first and foremost a partner for my paramedic on an ALS truck, advanced life support. So I assist the paramedic in their assessment of a patient, perhaps setting up different kind of IV setups, setting up the cardiac monitor for a patient, and providing basic life support skills such as CPR, interventions, simple interventions for airway and breathing and do a lot of driving. It can be a very emotionally and mentally demanding kind of job as well as physically, but mostly it's the mental, remembering okay, I have to go through this step, this step, and this step in order to do this. What am I overlooking? When you do your patient assessments you have your ABCs or CAB, depending on what you're looking for. So that would be airway, breathing, circulation. So you wanna make sure every intervention you're doing is what's the most important right this second and then move on to the next. So we're responding a lot to shootings, stabbings, assaults but also there's some of the more exciting things on the positive side. Like we have a lot of pregnant patients. There's kind of a little club in Chatham EMS handing out pins, like a little stork pin for every baby you delivered. So we try to make light of virtually everything that we go to but it's a very busy EMS service. We run a lot of calls like a large major city while still being kind of a smaller city in southeast Georgia. I work on a 12-hour ambulance. So I show up at six in the morning and I don't clock out until six at night. So at six in the morning I show up, clock in, and immediately go to check off the ambulance, usually with my partner. That includes doing a walk around of the whole ambulance making sure that there's no damage, no new damage from any other possible crews, checking off that all the equipment and all the lights and all the sirens work, making sure the tires are inflated properly. Then you go into the inside of the ambulance and check off all this back here. When you get a call from dispatch you get the details about where it is, maybe who's involved, and if PD or Fire or somebody is also responding. So, as you, that's part of what we call a scene size-up and we can request more information from dispatch, we can talk to the metro dispatchers who deal with PD and try to gather more information so we know what we're walking into. But for the most part it's an unknown. 98% of your calls you have no idea what's gonna happen. Half the job is skills, the other half is being mentally prepared for some of the things you might see. You can see some very gruesome things, whether it be car accidents, shootings, stabbings. You can, you have to be prepared to not only be dirty but help people or try to reassure people or comfort somebody when they're having a genuine emergency. If someone calls 911 this is an emergency to them. We might not consider it an emergency for one reason or another 'cause of our own experiences but to someone else this might be the worst day of their life and you have to be prepared to see that all the time. You have to be prepared to have family members around when there's someone dying and they're hysterical because of the emotional attachment they have to somebody who might be dying right there in front of them. So you have to be prepared to deal with them, deal with your own emotions, et cetera. This can be very trying for some people. Everybody has their own means of dealing with it. Some people are religious. Some people are able to disassociate themselves in a clinical standpoint from the patient. They don't humanize them as much because the emotional trying kind of, because of the emotionally trying aspect of the job, you see a lot of people that have relationships that end in divorce. They don't get as much time at home because they're always, you're almost married to the job first. So it's a lot of things that you have to be prepared for and hope that you can find a good balance for. That's probably one of the hardest parts, finding a balance. Probably the most difficult aspect for me personally is pediatric patients that are involved in some kind of a trauma or seeing pediatric abuse and you're one of the first people to actually notice this and you have to get police involved. That's always really hard for me. Kids seem to be the biggest thing. Pediatrics are the biggest thing for most people. We're inherently protective of children. So when you see one that's being abused or one that's been hurt it hurts you. Same thing with geriatric older patients. You get them, that's also one of the most frustrating things is you see them taken advantage of in a sense or not treated properly at nursing homes or maybe the family doesn't take very good care of them. So they're actually going to the hospital a lot more because their health is constantly in decline. So I get really frustrated for the healthcare that my patients receive and it genuinely feels like our job is almost their first line of defense and it can be kind of frustrating because that's not how an ambulance service is supposed to work. That's how it does work, basically. But people should be able to go and get the patient care they need and a lot of times we're their primary asset. So we have to be patient advocates. We have to make sure that they're getting the care that they need once we get to the hospital and explain to doctors, nurses, et cetera this is the circumstances, can we do anything extra to help them? A lot of times we'll call in DFCS for children or for older people that are being abused at home and we get the police involved and we're an advocate for our patient. So those are probably the more trying or frustrating parts of the job. Physical fitness is a big part of it. I myself try to go to the gym at least once a day five to six times a week, sometimes I go in twice. I come from more of a physical background through athletics in high school and college and all that but also starting out my career as a firefighter first then going into an EMT, physical training was very important to me. It's not uncommon to see people that are in this career field who don't take care of themselves physically, their own health starts to fail 'cause you're sitting in a truck a lot of times and it encourages a poor diet, not enough exercise, et cetera. So it's something that somebody really has to be conscious about and remember you can't help somebody else if you're not able to help yourself. Many of the reasons that I really enjoy this job would include the gratification you get from helping somebody, seeing a family member or the patient themselves saying, "Thank you so much." It's something that just really warms your soul. I enjoy no days the same. Every day you're gonna have a hundred different calls and none of 'em, no two calls are ever exactly alike. Something's always different, where you're going is always different. You get to see little parts of someone's life and interact with somebody on a level that most people in passing don't get to do. We don't really do this job necessarily for the pay 'cause there is not a great deal of pay in it. You do it for the gratification. So you have to be prepared for all that. My salary baseline is roughly 28,000 a year. At the baseline 28, that usually ends up scaling up to around 34,000 a year with overtime. We have built-in overtime in addition to our overtime that we choose for ourselves. Paramedics are lookin' probably about 32 a year baseline, closer to 36, 37 with overtime. That then scales up a little bit more at the FTO, field training officer, or lieutenant position and that's here in our department our lieutenants are salaried versus hourly but they can get additional overtime hours anyway. Same thing with our captains and eventually the chief at different levels, you have battalion chiefs and then you have overall department chiefs. So you're looking at a ceiling of 80,000 plus in our local area, which for the cost of living is comfortable. It's comparable to chiefs in some larger cities that are making six figures. So there's a wide range of entry level all the way up to the very top. That can include certifications, education, promotions, time in, et cetera.