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Halton: We Owe You a Ticker Tape Parade

Bobby Halton

On Thursday, April 11, 2019, at Opening Ceremony Day 2 at FDIC International 2019, FDIC Education Director Chief (Ret.) Bobby Halton addressed the crowd of more than 2,500 attendees.

“Emergency medical services … interesting turn of words … a lot is packed in there.

Emergency medical services. What those words really stand for in personification is us, all of us, in simple fire terms: medics. Whether you are firefighter with no medical training, only common sense; a firefighter with basic first aid level training; an EMT, EMT Paramedic or Advanced; a PA; a nurse; or an emergency physician on the streets, inside the walls of an institution, whenever we are responding to someone in an emergency, we are medics.    

“The common understanding of who and where we are today bears out the accuracy of that moniker, medic. It is a matter of history that returning veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, armed with the skills, techniques, and tools they acquired, and many instances developed as aid men, field medics, corpsmen, nurses, and forward operating docs, revolutionized emergency medical service delivery in America in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

“It is with a very profound sense of sadness that we look back on these patriots returning in the ’60s and ’70s, the forgotten—no, the ignored, the disrespected warriors. As brother and sister firefighters, we listened with grave remorse to stories from our combat veterans about the load masters telling the solders on the freedom flights home not to wear their uniforms off base while processing out. Many soldiers declined to shave in hopes of blending in. No parades, no tickertape, no recognition, in many cases scorn, dismissal, rebuke, rejection, and ridicule for their service to our nation, for saving their fellow patriots’ lives, and for saving countless thousands of others lives from sharing each dearly bought lesson they brought home.

“As a nation, we have come to terms with those terrible mistakes, of arrogance, and ingratitude. As a nation, we have asked for our forgotten warriors’ forgiveness. Today, we gather to greet our returning warfighters at airports and guard bases; we thank them when we see them; we buy them coffee, offer them meals, wish them well and prayers for their safe return.

“The inexcusable failure of our society 30 and 40 years ago, however, didn’t stop any of them from continuing to serve. Some of them here today perhaps, veterans of those times, hair now gray with age but still serving. Or anyone else in this most noble of all callings from stepping up and being counted. And make no mistake about it, this is the most noble of callings.

“None other than the one of the most famous of American fire service icons of all time, FDNY Chief Ed Croker, proclaimed so in his immortal 1906 ‘I have no ambition but one’ speech, where he said: ‘We are defenders from fires, of the art which has beautified the world, the product of the genius of men. But, above all, our proudest endeavor is to save the lives of men--the work of God Himself.’

“But what does it mean, ‘Proudest endeavor is to save lives’? You know because you are a firefighter. You know because you are a medic. The two identities are inseparable. If you labor to save lives, you are a medic; it is that simple. It is frankly as Croker nailed it: It is our proudest endeavor. As firefighters, as medics, we are willing to fight the most frightening element known to mankind, death. To put yourself into the most intensely chaotic of all environments, routinely, willingly, gratefully—that is what makes you a medic.

“An emergency is just that--a complete suspension of order. One minute you are driving down the road to a fire, and the next thing you know, people in uniforms are telling you it is going to be OK. In that chaotic moment, you don’t even know what OK is, but they do: It means they are not going to let you die today, not on their watch. It means you are seeing tomorrow in whatever glorious way God has in store for you--seeing your kids, your husband, saving your leg, your heart, giving you a shot at more tomorrows. That is an amazingly dangerous place to want to function, an intensely risky place, for every medic, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, because failure in what we do routinely is so costly, so personal, so deeply connected to our sense of good.

“We owe all of you, every firefighter, every medic, a ticker tape parade, all of you. It is almost incomprehensible that in many organizations, medics are as our forgotten warriors were--discounted, abused, neglected, and demeaned.

“Ridiculing our brother and sister firefighter medics, even indirectly, with jokes like ‘EMS stands for Every Minute Sucks’ is shameful. It is inexcusable. It is wrong, and it stops now. Croker was right. Our highest highs are when we save a life, at a fire, doing CPR, clearing an airway, stopping a bleed. It doesn’t matter how or where. It is our proudest endeavor.

“Maybe it is because you are humble, decent, and kind. You are not doing this work for recognition or glory. You don’t study endlessly, train relentlessly, drill continuously because you want to be famous or special. Firefighters, medics do it because we care, we honestly and deeply care, about life, human dignity, and helping those in peril regardless of their station in life, their gender, race, or any other factor.

“Yes, EMS is tough, mentally a lot tougher than fighting fire, emotionally a lot tougher, but we do it because at 3 in the morning on a cold wet highway because some poor sleepy stranger fell asleep at the wheel and rolled his car while you were home in bed. You do it for the same reason every medic does it: because you are the bravest of the brave.

“Every American knows if suddenly life is threatened, and their tomorrows are endangered, medics will come despite the risks. Medics will come despite the danger. Medics will come on engines, in ambulances, on squads, in helicopters, in truck companies, and in chiefs’ buggies, and medics will never leave anyone behind.

“It is about damn time our fire service, our medical community, our society at large stand up and give all our medics the respect and gratitude they so justly deserve. It is about damn time we show the same pride and honor to our EMS division that we extend to our rescue companies, our hazmat units, and our squads.

“Every company, every firefighter, every medic is and has been focused on the pursuit of our proudest endeavor for as our long as our distinguished tradition has existed. It’s about damn time we say thank you to EMS for your dedication and your dignity, and, all firefighters, it is time today, right now, to start wearing our medic colors a little more proudly, a little more boldly.”