Recently, a person came to this blog via a post by TOTWTYTR. The post s from December where 2 EMTs were accused of refusing to help a dying pregnant woman because they were on a break. People are screaming for them to be fired. I would have just placed a comment on the post itself, but it was an old post, and my comments are likely to be a little long.
In the current environment, there is a lot of talk about budget cuts, and much talk about how public sector employees are overpaid, get too many benefits, etc. but in all of this no one seems to notice how public sector employees are held to a higher standard. As an example, the woman who died was an employee of the coffee shop. If the situation had been reversed and the woman would have been off the clock, and the EMTs had wanted a cup of coffee, would people be calling for her to be fired for refusing to do her job while off the clock?
Currently in the State of Florida, and all across the nation, there is talk of cutting benefits. Florida is about to change the rules for the Florida Retirement System to cut retirement benefits in half, and to change the retirement age for high risk jobs from age 50 to age 65. Some departments are discussing cutting hours by not paying responders between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. if the responder doesn’t have to actually respond to a call for assistance, even though the responders must remain at work ready to respond. Can you imagine a receptionist being required to sit at her desk, but not getting paid unless the phone actually rings?
As a firefighter and as a Paramedic, I am exposed to all sorts of things that a government office worker is not.
Let me tell you the story of Oviedo Firefighter Shane Kelly. Firefighter Kelly stopped to assist victims of an auto accident on the Florida Turnpike in 2002. Shane was off duty. He was killed in full view of his wife when a tractor trailer slammed into the accident vehicles. There were 2 occupants of the truck that killed Firefighter Kelly, and there was enough confusion as to which of them was driving that neither of them was ever charged.
The Federal Government ruled that Sean Kelly was acting in his capacity as a private citizen when he was killed, and since his death was not a line of duty death, his widow was not entitled to any of the benefits of the LOD status. Imagine how you would feel as an EMT, Firefighter, or other responder if you knew that helping an injured person carries the same risk of injury or death whether you are on duty or off duty, except that if you are injured, not only are you NOT paid for your time and skill, but you are not insured for that potentially career ending injury. Who will feed your family? Care for your kids?
In Firefighter Kelly’s case, they rallied some politicians and were able to get an exception in his case, but there is no guarantee that the next accident victim will get the same exception. State law in Florida allows localities to each determine what constitutes line of death, and what does not. In a meeting with my employer’s attorney, where Firefighters were attempting to get a written policy on what would be considered Line of Duty injury for off the clock employees, we were told that such decisions for off duty personnel would be made on a case by case basis by Administration AFTER the fact. I made a comment along the lines of, “So you get to decide AFTER I am injured whether or not you will pay for it. Will that decision take factors like the cost of treatment and PR benefit to you into account?” That REALLY pissed off the attorney. (I call em like I see em.)
Not only will the employer retroactively decide whether or not the employee who stops to help is covered if injured, they will decide on a case by case basis who they will provide legal representation to if the employee is sued by a personal injury attorney. That policy marked the end of my stopping to help in emergencies, and until that policy changes, I will no longer help anyone while I am off the clock. After all, requiring me to do something while not paying me is called slavery.
Many will say that I should just get my own insurance, and to that I reply: How many of you who are not in EMS would pay money to be able to do uncompensated work that could get you injured, killed, or sued? Other considerations: DO off duty EMTS carry equipment? Gloves, pocket masks, defibrillators? If they do not, what can they do that any other bystander can do? Or should the employer provide those items?
If I am at an accident scene, how can I keep other vehicles from hitting me? Should I block the lanes with my personal car, like we do with our ambulances and fire apparatus? If I do, and a semi crashes into my car- will my employer pay for my car? Will my own insurance pay? After all, they will surely argue that they do not cover me for high risk activity like using it as emergency equipment. If my wife is in the car when it is struck, who pays for HER care?
All of this is viewed in light of the new era of budget cuts. Cutting pay, retirement, benefits, and other compensation, and you get what you pay for.