NAEMSP Conference Kicks Off in San Diego

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The National Association of EMS Physicians’ annual meeting began in earnest Thursday in San Diego, with mask and vaccine requirements to guard against the latest omicron variant of COVID-19.

After losing last year’s in-person gathering to the virus, EMS physicians rallied this year with nearly 1,000 preregistrations, the most in the conference’s history (though not everyone actually made it to the show). “This is an epic turnout,†NAEMSP President Michael Levy, MD, FACEP, FAEMS, FACP, said in his opening remarks. “This unequivocally reconfirms that everyone wants to be here… You’ve voted with your feet: You want an in-person meeting.â€

The organization is also approaching new membership highs and has seen a “significant acceleration†in the formation of new state chapters, Levy said.

Other news from the opening presentation included announcements about NAEMSP’s new Foundations of Medical Oversight Course (FOMOC); updated bylaws; and the ascension of past president David Cone, MD, to editor in chief of the group’s Prehospital Emergency Care journal. It’s also produced a new airway compendium containing 15 published articles and position statements on a range of relevant topics that’s available online as a supplement to the journal.

Levy also updated the condition of popular emergency colleague Greg Mears, MD, known for his work with NEMSIS and serving as medical director for ZOLL, who remains in hospice in need of a liver transplant.

Black Fire Brigade

The keynote speaker was the Chicago Fire Department’s Lt. Quention Curtis, founder of the Black Fire Brigade. Raised in Chicago’s tough Cabrini-Green public housing, Curtis grew up witnessing the tolls of violence and neglect in his community. He ultimately became a cop, then a firefighter. And it troubled him that his neighbors didn’t much trust EMS.

Some of it was about communication: In much the same way as those from Mexico and those from Puerto Rico both speak Spanish, but in different dialects that aren’t always mutually understood, CFD personnel and those from the projects could often speak past each other. He cited a Black colleague who said he was on his way to his crib—and a white one who responded, “Isn’t that where babies sleep?†Hone in on what you say and how, Curtis urged, because that remark triggered a major dispute.

Beyond the emergency services, he said, thousands of Chicago’s inner-city kids “don’t believe they’ll make it to 18,†creating a nihilism where nothing matters and there’s no reason to play by rules.

Against that backdrop, the Black Fire Brigade works to support and increase diversity in the EMS and fire professions by recruiting inner-city youth into emergency services jobs. This gets them involved in their community and builds self-esteem through helping others and commitment to a cause. “If you teach a kid to save a life,†Curtis said, “he’ll be less likely to take one.â€

You can learn a lot from these young people, he added—they’re not dumb, just lacking direction.

Chicago, incidentally, 150 years ago had the first paid black firefighters in the U.S. And when Curtis started with the CFD, it had around 1,000. Now that number has dwindled to under 300. And if the department lost 800 Black firefighters, he noted—at annual salaries around $100,000 each—that’s a cumulative $80 million lost to the Black community. And the city’s police have also seen their numbers drop.

Recognizing a need for jobs now, the Brigade has now created an EMR program that can lead to immediate employment as a driver upon graduation. Those who continue on through the fire academy or paramedic school can earn more than $70,000 a year upon completion. Others were hired away for COVID response by outfits like construction companies, earning $60,000 annually, and stayed on for that rate rather than returning.

There’s a lot of hopelessness among such youth, Curtis concluded, but it can be turned to hope if they’re convinced things can change. “Let’s give each and every one of them a chance,†he said. “They all need your help.â€

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John Erich is the senior editor of EMS World. 

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