Mixed Signals at Youth Detention – NOMA

I was asked to accompany my supervisor to the local Youth Detention Center where they’re running a couple weeks of a modified almost career day program. They’re bringing in trades and professions from TV makeup to EMS and showing the kids that they don’t have to give up the hopes of moving on with their lives when they get out.

I think it’s a great idea since simply putting someone in a room and waving a finger at them seldom produces change in behavior. My 7 year old could have told you that.

We had a presentation prepared about the history of EMS, local and State requirements to achieve licensure and what to expect on the job. We had pros, cons, salary expectations and, most importantly to them, what your background needed to look like.
They were very interested in learning about the sliding scale of background infractions that will still yield a job taking care of people on their worst days. This many years without a conviction in this, that many years without 2 or more convictions in that…they were riveted and you could see them doing the math in their heads. “If I get out this year and don’t re-offend I can be an EMT in 4 years!”

The Company Man in me was on board with the message of inspiring these youths to look beyond their transgressions and wipe the slate clean. An opportunity awaits them to possibly get a job with me helping people.
Everyone deserves a second chance in life, especially the young.

Not on my ambulance (NOMA).

That’s what the EMS 2.0 inside me said. During the presentation I did my best to explain to the class just how easy it is to get an EMT cert.
“Only 120 hours of class needed guys!”
“2 days a week for 1 semester at the community college and you’ll be able to take the test. Pass it and you can apply to work on an ambulance!”

The conflict within me was well hidden I assure you.

While I agree that these kids need this message of how easy it is to get into EMS, I don’t want it to be so easy.

Taking care of people takes blind trust on their part assuming that the agency responding has done something to make sure you are a trustworthy person and are trained to take care of them. We extend our message of EMS with the promise of lights and sirens, driving on the wrong side of the road and try to temper that with tales of 911 abuse, vomit, urine, blood and guts. All this group seemed to be interested in was why my stripes were silver and my boss’s gold.

They’re kids.

We need to take this message to EVERY school and get kids excited about helping people and being selfish about it.

Yes, I said selfish. I don’t do this job to help people, I do it because the feeling I get from helping people is addictive and better than anything I know. I help people because if I don’t I don’t feel right. Trying to convey that message to a group of young men already 2 strikes down and out of their league doesn’t translate as well as one may hope.

One of them asked how we handle dealing with sick people and I told them it’s easy. It’s taking care of the people you shouldn’t want to that is hard.

I told the story of the child abuser that was confronted by a neighbor. The child had been transported by another crew and I was called to deal with the abuser and his mild injuries. That man got the exact same high level of assessment, care and transport as my mother would have received. Not because it was the law, or policy or the right thing to do, but that’s what I was there for. My sole purpose was to help those who asked and I did it with a smile on my face. Maybe not the biggest smile, but I helped and I felt better.

I wanted to share more about the realities of EMS with those kids but we ran out of time.

We didn’t talk about burnout, divorce, poor dietary habits, the sedentary lifestyle of 12 hour system status cars or the fact that in most communities you’ll need a second job to make ends meet.

In the end I don’t think it will matter.

The Company Man in me will apply whatever standards my employer sets forth when considering candidates, regardless of personal belief or Professional discretion. But if I was the boss, even if you carried the same license and all other things being equal, I’m hiring the kid that WANTS to be here, not one who took the easy road and wants to give it a shot because it took less hours than welding at the local college to get qualified.

Am I wrong? Maybe, but at least then I’ll know and can move forward.

What are your thoughts on reaching out to troubled youth about jobs in EMS?

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One thought on “Mixed Signals at Youth Detention – NOMA”

  1. To be honest, I think showing these kids that there is hope in general will often do more positive for them than all the negative things in their lives combined. Whether or not they pull out of the negativity they are in and go for being an EMT is still completely up to them. The point is, someone took THEIR time to talk to them about what THEY do. Kids see us in many different lights. To some, I’m the mean bus driver who won’t play the radio. To others, I’m their best friend and favorite person to talk to because I listen. And yet, to others, I’m the bus driver that played the prank on them that made them remember me.

    All hope is not lost – I’ve had kids who were absolutely awful to me for an afternoon come up to me 3 years later and apologize for their immature behavior on that one afternoon. Apparently they DO have a conscience.

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