Whose Orders Will You Follow?
The average worker's right to overtime past 40 hours is something that people have died for. Organized labor, especially in the public sector, is Public Enemy #1 for a lot of people in this country right now but it is worth remembering that this is nothing new.
In slightly related news we have the Occupy protests. I've noticed that they are furnishing their own "medics" to treat wounded protestors. I don't know if these are actually EMT-trained medics or if they're just fellow protestors with first aid training. We can expect that to be a common feature in any large protest because of the common use of violence by the police to clear protestors. Don't be fooled: just because they aren't firing bullets doesn't mean there aren't people getting hurt. The protestors presumably feel they need their own medics because the police are not allowing them access to prompt medical care. Whether that is because the police want them to suffer, thus maximizing the effects of their power, I can't say. No matter what I can't imagine too many fire/EMS folks who would want to wade into a riot to provided medical care. That goes against the ethos that is drilled into every EMT student from nearly Day 1: personal safety is top priority. Is the scene secure?
Yet when it comes to firefighting we take a far more nuanced view of risk. Since most EMS providers in this country are firefighters who, ideally, would be happy to risk their lives to save someone from a burning home, why is it so different when it comes to EMS? I suppose it has to do with our total lack of control measures for violence. We can do things to minimize our risk of dying from fire. We have nothing to minimize our risk of dying from a bullet or knife. So that makes sense to me, even if it does leave some people wanting for care. But what if, like the medic in the linked story above claims, the police are simply holding the injured, away from further violence and in a secure area?
My bigger question has to do with the future. You can bet that we will see more and larger protests for various reasons. The state as we have known it and as a concept is dying. We are all government workers. Will there come a time when we are faced with a choice between obeying police orders and providing the care which it is our duty to provide? Will the fire department, as firefighters, EMS providers, rescuers, or whatever, follow orders or engage in its own civil disobedience when the situation presents itself? Should the individual firefighter be willing to engage in civil disobedience of this sort? Should officers and administrators be willing to buck their counterparts on the PD side or in the mayor or city manager's office? Can the "fire department" survive this sort of civil disobedience? These are questions that go to the heart of what it means to work in this job, questions that no one can answer for you. Some of the answers may present a risk you hadn't considered, namely that you were willing to die for duty, but are you willing to lose your job?
……….. Patrick Mahoney
Globe & Mail
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