EMS Radio is a funny thing. There are those in EMS who will at a moment’s notice jump into a burning building to rescue a trapped occupant; will without hesitation slide down a wet embankment to begin extricating those in an overturned vehicle; who will, in fact, waltz into someone’s home, walk right up to a complete stranger and (if it’s relevant to their complaint) ask them, with all due gravity, when they last pooped, and what it looked like.

And yet, when it comes to picking up the microphone and pressing the PTT (Push to talk), these selfsame folk will freeze up and stammer incoherently.

It all has to do, I am convinced, with the Audience. Until a year or two ago, all radio traffic was conducted on the same channel used to dispatch calls. This meant that whatever you said would boom into the fire station bays, where one’s in-house compatriots could hear every utterance, and comment on same upon one’s return. Naturally, then, The Need To Sound Cool is paramount, and if there is any doubt about Sounding Cool, stage fright sets in.

The coolest Sound is not the Radio DJ Sound. Older folk might remember Wolfman Jack – emulating his style on EMS Radio would not be Cool. Indeed, shouting or allowing the least bit of tension into the voice is never Cool. Instead, adopting the verbal persona of a bored airline pilot with a Midwestern accent is considered closer to Cool, no matter the situation:

“Aaaambulance 502 to Prince William,” one drawls.

“Go ahead,” says dispatch.

“Dispatch, checkin’ out our right window, there, we’re noticin’ a gas station explosion and fire, probably gonna need some water on that. And – yep – there go one or two folk on fire, might consider sendin’ a medic as well, if it ain’t too much trouble. To our left, there’s a lovely sunset.”

Now, the situation is somewhat changed as we have, on the rescue side, a relatively new (last year or two) radio system with many features, including multiple channels. Dispatched calls come in over one channel; normal traffic other than dispatch occurs on one of several, alternate channels assigned by Dispatch. Thus, while our EMS Bruthuz in the station hear the initial call, they do not necessarily hear the consequent back-and-forth between our unit and the dispatchers.

This would, one might expect, lead to more, ah, “freedom of expression” on the radio. Alas, it does not.

The new radios each send an identity code to dispatch; if we get truly strange on either the unit radio or the portables, they will know who it is and, thanks to an also-new GPS, know where to go to hunt us down like dogs.

One may however run into situations in which the proper responses are unknown, and that gives one a chance to wing it.

A little while ago, County dispatch found themselves with radio trouble. Since we in the bambulance were at an attempted suicide call, staging for PD and doing nothing otherwise, they decided to use us to do a radio check.

Dispatch comes over the radio. “Ambulance 502, 5-4-3-2-1, how do you read?”

The Lead EMT turns to me. “What? What do we say?”

“I don’t know, never had ’em do that before.”

“Well, we have to say something.”

“Say, ‘I read you five by five’.”

The lead EMT clears her throat, gets Midwestern, and drawls to dispatch: “Dispatch, we read you five by five.” To me: “What the hell does that mean?”

“I have no idea. I think someone said it on the movie Aliens.”

ALIENS? DTs, you moron…”

On the other hand, private ambulance service radios are not broadcast across an entire county, and there is sometimes a little room for play, when for example it is 03:30 and we’ve run umppity-two calls already.

Medic 9: “Medic nine to dispatch, we’re clear our last call.”

Dispatch: “Okay, Medic 9, clear 03:30.”

“My, but the dispatcher sounded bored.”

“I think he sounded more tired than bored.”

“Well, if he’s bored, he’s still sharp. If he’s tired, then…”

Medic 9: “Dispatch to Medic 9.”

Dispatch: “Medic 9.”

Medic 9: “Medic 9 here, go ahead.”

Dispatch: “Medic 9.”

Medic 9: “Go ahead, Dispatch.”

There is quiet. The Nextel chirps and we answer, “Medic 9. What do you want?”, to which Dispatch, thoroughly confused, replies after a moment, “We don’t know.”

Still and all, Fun with the Radio is usually a big no-no, as in theory the FCC is listening in and can yank one’s transmit license, leaving our units with nothing more useful than Mr. Microphone. Ah well.


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