Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
Idaho’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) units provide critical services, and the dedication and hard work of the exceptional Idahoans involved in Idaho’s EMS cannot be overstated. They take action when an Idahoan needs help. And, so often, especially in Idaho’s rural communities, EMS personnel fill multiple roles, working long hours to provide needed help when emergencies happen at any hour of the day or night.
I am deeply grateful for the quick work of Idaho’s EMS personnel, who often wear many hats as they strive to save lives and alleviate suffering. The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare reports, “Approximately 40 percent of Idaho's EMS providers are volunteers. Almost 10 percent of them also work as career EMS providers with another agency.”
EMS, a system of individuals working together to provide critical care when it is needed most, includes a diverse group of health care practitioners, such as paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), dual-role firefighter/EMTs, firefighter/paramedics and volunteer personnel serving each of those roles. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that compiles data on the U.S. workforce does not include dual-role firefighter/EMTs and firefighter/paramedics in their count of EMS personnel. This undercounting affects how government agencies determine EMS needs. It influences how they plan for natural disasters, public health and other emergencies.
Fellow U.S. Senator for Idaho Jim Risch and I co-sponsored S. 2971, the EMS Counts Act, that would address this undercounting by requiring the U.S. Secretary of Labor in collaboration with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to revise the descriptions for this occupation to include dual-role EMS. This legislation supports those who work in multiple roles providing these services in Idaho communities and helps ensure communities are properly prepared for emergencies. In the legislation, we stress:
“EMS is an integral component of the response capacity of the United States to disasters and public health crises, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases, bombings, mass shootings, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. EMS personnel respond to more than 22,000,000 emergency calls each year including strokes, heart attacks, cardiac arrest, and trauma.”
Across Idaho, skilled and caring Idahoans are answering those emergency calls. For example, Ada County Paramedics reported they responded to more than 31,000 calls in 2020 alone, providing pre-hospital care to sick or injured people. To meet this need, they report, “Fulltime EMTs and Paramedics work 24 hour shifts with varying shift schedules.” Shawn Rayne, Emergency Medical Services Chief Paramedic for Ada County, said, “EMTs and Paramedics do extraordinary work that truly makes a difference in people’s lives. From long hours to managing extremely difficult and stressful situations, EMS providers prove they have an unwavering commitment to the communities they serve.”
To distinguish EMS and their critical public service, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created the "Star of Life" with each bar on the "Star of Life" representing one of six EMS functions, and the serpent and staff in the symbol portraying the staff of Asclepius, an ancient Greek physician deified as the god of medicine. This symbol is seen on ambulances, EMS apparel and other materials. As we think about the heart, courage and skill of the Idahoans represented by the “Star of Life,” my gratitude and prayers are with them as they carry out their vital roles in our communities.
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