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Why firefighters and medics stage

Unless our patient is carrying a holster or a sign that says, “I have a gun,” I’m not likely to notice it



This is for my friends in blue with the guns and batons and self-defense training. It‘s for those with tasers, beanbag guns and SWAT training (some of you).

I want to address the sticky subject you seem to blame fire and EMS for bothering you with: Staging.

For those of you outside public safety, staging refers to the habit of “non-self-defense-trained” people waiting for people with training and weapons whenever we think the situation may warrant it. While over 90% of these calls never really need the keen eye of a trained observer, their mere presence can change a disagreeable patient from angry to apologetic.

As a paramedic, I can get in trouble for raising my voice to a patient, but that‘s more about on-scene stuff; let‘s get back to staging.

Fire and EMS will hang back so that the folks specially trained to examine the situation can let us know what‘s going on and when it‘s safe.

This was confirmed when I did a ride-along with Motorcop in his town. In a car. He said the bike was in the shop. Whatever.

He handled each and every stop, call and location we went to as a possibly hostile environment. I thought it was funny how he showed me how to unlock the shotgun at the beginning of his shift, but when he approached the first car of the day with his hand on his belt, then suddenly onto his weapon, I could sense he noticed something. I hadn‘t noticed any squirrel.

We look at things differently because we‘re trained and equipped to handle them differently.

Cops see a person and may notice a concealed weapon, while medics notice he‘s favoring his right knee and seems pale.

Medics see a patient suffering from low blood sugar or stroke; cops may see a combative suspect trying to fight to get away.

Unless our patient is carrying a holster or a sign that says, “I have a gun,” I‘m not likely to notice it. I‘m just not looking for them all the time like they are.

LEOs may not notice the distinct discoloration of a flail chest segment and the need to intervene as soon as possible because they aren‘t trained to. Simple as that.

We walk in different worlds and ask each other for help when it seems necessary. I‘ll keep calling them for the guy asleep in the car or the 20-something who called from a payphone at 1 a.m., threatening to hurt himself, if they keep calling me for every cut, scrape and case of acute incarcaritis (when someone in custody suddenly develops a medical condition they‘ll be released for) that wanders into the P.D. 5 minutes before the end of my shift.

For every engine company that stages waiting for PD to clear the scene, is a police officer calling EMS to check someone out.

Police eval calls are my least favorite but the ones I‘ll always do with a smile because, bless their hearts, they have no idea what they‘re doing in my world, just like I have no idea what I‘m doing in theirs.

So officers, next time fire or EMS stages and asks for the scene to be cleared, do me a favor and head over and do what you do best.

Medics, next time you get called out for a police eval, groan all you want but get over there and do what we do best. Then go back to the station or the yard and make sure you tell everyone about how stupid it was that we called you out for something so simple when we‘re doing the exact same thing on the next call you ask us out on.

Justin Schorr is a rescue captain for the San Francisco Fire Department, where he has served as a field paramedic and a firefighter, a field captain and an administrative captain. He is ARFF-qualified and oversees EMS response for San Francisco International Airport. Schorr spent 25 years in the fire service and is experienced in rural, suburban and urban firefighting as well as paramedicine. He runs the blog The Happy Medic.