Oh Sh*t, Bullsh*t, and… Pinball?

Anyone who has been in EMS for more than 5 minutes has heard it.

EMS is 10%  Oh SHIT!!, and 90% bullshit.” 

There are lots of derogatory names for certain populations notorious for “bullshit” calls. Some are funny, some are mean, and some are just plain stupid, but most should never be repeated  in the presence of non-EMS’ers. Maybe not at all, to be honest.

I don’t need to go down the list. I’ve said them, you’ve said them, and mostly they are spoken lightheartedly. But at the end of the day we need to remember that we are adults-   who whine  all the time about not being treated as professionals.

Words Matter.

But- Where does pinball fit in?

Kelly Grayson pretty accurately characterized me as an idea person crossed with a Lorax. Pinball is what happens to all those ideas as they  spring loose and bounce around in my head.

(Yes, I compared my thought process to an arcade game.”Attack from Mars,” specifically.)

In my pinball game, some balls ideas go nowhere. Some, on the other hand, get a bounce or two. Some get lots of bounce, and score decent points.

Now and then, you pull hard, get a lot of bounce and just when you think that ball idea has finished its part in the game, you catch it again… and it’s back in play.



During the past two years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to EMS and Fire Department volunteers about recruitment, retention, cultural changes and leadership. A common complaint  is regarding volunteers who cherry pick calls, or are unreliable. Everybody  shows up for the *good calls*; structure fires, motor vehicle accidents, anything that might be perceived as a requiring a bona-fide  DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES! hero response.

My standard answer has for the most part been: “You’re attracting the wrong people, the wrong way.” Which is still true. Almost all marketing for EMS, be it PSA’s, recruitment videos, billboards, or television dramas send the same message about nonstop excitement, lifesaving, screaming sirens, flashing lights, and slow motion sexy guys and gals saving the day.

Nobody talks about the calls where Granny cant poop ,or Grandpa fell out of bed.

When a friend I saw at a conference introduced me to a volunteer chief who reads my column, I was not surprised at this comment.

“I actually have a lot of members on the roster. But nobody wants to show up for the bullshit calls.”

PING!  disengaged volunteers for 10,000 points.

Words. Matter.

When the experienced providers and leadership in EMS refer to everyday, routine calls as “bullshit calls,” why do we expect volunteers to be committed to responding?

Because it’s the job” may be factual, but it is absolutely the wrong approach.

Why do people get into EMS? Maybe the lights and sirens and superhero lifesaving mad skills they will get to use. Maybe because they want to make a difference. Maybe both.

Just because someone gets into EMS for the wrong reasons, doesn’t mean they won’t end up staying for the right reasons. That is where leadership comes in. And leadership doesn’t always mean having a title. Leadership means setting the example every day.

There are no bullshit calls.

Someone who believed they needed help called, and you answered the call.

You made a difference. Thank you.

That is what your members need to hear.

You may never know just how much of a difference just showing up for another human being in need made. Being there, prepared and ready to help is a gift you give to every person who calls 911.

Thank you. You make a difference. Every day.

This is the message that needs to be sent. Let’s keep volunteers in EMS for the right reasons ,who may have been sold on it for the wrong reasons.

Now I have to re-evaluate my  R&R  lecture. And that’s okay.

I want to  constantly be evolving in my thought process so that I can best serve those who would seek my advice.



3 thoughts on “Oh Sh*t, Bullsh*t, and… Pinball?

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I see young people get into EMS and within a month their lingo and behavior goes south! They jump at “good calls” and bitch about the “lesser” ones. However, they stop right there. There’s no interest in teamwork … among many other things….. there has to be a change in the way we recruit and retain the dedicated “people” people.
    When I teach classes, I say it again and again, that every patient is a person. Our traumas aren’t slabs of meat, and even the “bs” calls are serious to some.
    Thanks for the article…. it’s nice…. no, it’s mental reassurance, that someone understands what we are supposed to be here for!!


  2. nancyatmedictrainingsolutions February 3, 2017 — 3:48 am

    Thanks Wendi!


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