The Good Lord saw fit to grant me but one sibling, a brother. His name is Brian. He’s a good brother. He calls, he Skypes, he visits me half way across the country for road trips and family outings.

He’s in nursing school right now so I get to listen to him yammer on about how nurses are the greatest thing in all of medicine. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, he’s not even out of school yet and he’s learning how to be patronizing to us EMS folk.

He’s going to make a really good nurse.

Sometimes I wonder if my brother wouldn’t be irked if he knew how many people I refer to as brother. Honestly, he’s the only one with clear rights to the title. He was the one defending me at the school lockers in junior high. He was the one that had to sacrifice the video game paddle so I could have my turn for all those years.

I do drop the term fairly frequently in the course of my work day. I can’t help it. I use the term sister occasionally as well but I don’t have a real sister who might take issue with my use of the title so I’ll thank you to excuse my gender bias if I stick to the conflict with the term brother.

For this month’s Handover Blog Carnival submission I was supposed to write a portrait of EMS. To be true to the assignment I needed to pick a single person and write about them. An homage if you will. (Forgive me for using the word homage.)

So I stared at the wall here next to my computer, and then out the window for a while, recalling all the crazy characters who have influenced me on my journey through EMS. There are so many that I could easily spend hours and at least one full pot of coffee just lost in my head.

And I am at a complete loss to think of just one person to tell you about.

You see, my experience in EMS doesn’t look like a portrait in my head. It looks like a collage, one image blending in to the next. For certain there are individuals who claim their rightful places of prominence. After two decades there are people who influenced me so profoundly and undeniably that they stand out boldly.

A few observations strike me as I drift across the collage of my EMS experience. One is that I’ve been blessed to be a part of the EMS family for so many years. There is such an amazing, strange, wonderful bunch of people who are drawn to this type of work and I’ve been so privileged to share my life with all of them.

Another thing that occurred to me was that the individuals who I’ve conflicted with the most have also had the greatest influence on me. Those people who were most unlike me, who were willing to challenge me and fight with me and come back and do it all over again are the ones to whom I owe the greatest debt of gratitude. Often the people who we struggle against each day ultimately change us for the better. Conflict isn’t always such a bad thing.

It also seems to me that family is a fitting name for who all of these people are to me. Or what they represent. A work family, but a family none-the-less. They are no more or less real to me than my family right here at home. And I don’t think my use of the term takes anything away from my traditional family.

So my portrait of EMS will have to remain collage. And if we meet some day, and you are also a part of this big, extended EMS family, don’t be surprised if I call you brother. It’s just my way. I think my brother would approve. Now pass me the video game paddle. You’ve had at least two turns while I’ve been talking.

Now it’s your turn: (Just not with the video game.) Are there certain individuals who stand out and help you define your EMS experience? Do you consider the people you work with an extended family. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment before you go.

Related Articles:

EMT Skill: Observation

A Man of Honor

One EMT Can Make A Difference


  1. I just stumbled upon your site last night, I think it was a sign! You have such amazing tips and tricks available for me to look at and learn. I am a brand new EMT (a week old!) and love this out of the box thinking in your articles. Thanks for the help. Stay strong Brother.

  2. Steve Whitehead says:

    You’re welcome Mason. I’m glad you’re enjoying the reading.

  3. Many words come to mind when you think of the relationships that develop in this line of work. We do a very different job that requires more of us and our co-workers than most other jobs I can think of. We put ourselves in harms way everyday. Be it a medical call with an HIV patient or an “all in” structure fire. We have to trust that the guy drawing bloods will be careful on the way to the sharps box so not to stick us with a dirty needle. We certainly hope we won’t get left alone during a fire because a door didn’t get wedged open blocking our escape. The trust required to put ourselves in those positions builds bonds. Those bonds are the result of shared experiences that in one way or invest in each other to achieve the common goal we shared.

    In my EMT-B class I was lucky enough to forge some brother like friendships that I think will last a lifetime. We thrust ourselves into the class even after we got the “some of you may not live to see the end” speech the head, head instructor gave us. I for one knew I couldn’t do the class alone. So I begin to wade through the faces in the crowd having small conversations here and there hoping to find a few kids that will play nice enough to get through the course in one piece. Along the way I found:

    Epi, Epi is a nickname this bright young man got during class. That’s a story that would take too long to explain. He’s a super good kid that over the months since graduation has turned into a little brother figure in my life. He helped me through several tough spots through the class and along with others we spent many late hours in my living room practicing skills and reviewing for tests. I’ve also spent many hours listening to his “girlfriend issues” and the plans he has made to further himself in his career.

    Miller, The White Miller to be exact (another long story). He’s a ladies man surfer dude that again spent hours studying and practicing skills. He too has girl issues that we have spent time hashing out and I was honored to be there for him. We have since taken other classes together since graduating EMT school and still talk on a regular basis.

    Then there were others like TJ, Bill, Shagy, Joiner, Joren, Gillespie, Yuki, Stoch, Lorraine, Joe and Jim. We all pushed and pulled, laughed and cried together to achieve our first EMS goal. Some of us made it to the end others didn’t but we all made a pact (unspoken) but a pact none the less to do what was needed to help each other make it through alive.

    Another set of kids was key was the instructors and other professionals that invested in me and guided me on my quest. Through my life I have found it wise to have friends and mentors in all stages of life. From guys life Epi who are fresh out of high school to the men that have completed there careers and are now watching as the new generation carries the torch. A HUGE person in this process is a very dear friend Tommy. He and I met years ago playing music at our church, we share a love for the outdoors, sports and now EMS. He is a SAMS officer with one of the big departments in the metro area and after I lost my job with the oil company said “come ride with me and the boys at station 7’s”. Little did I know I was about to get my first hit of the EMS drug. Tommy and Matt and the other guys spent time studying with me and coaching me through scenarios. Many a cup of coffee was consumed at the Village Inn and on the phone prepping for tests.

    Another well marinated paramedic I met about halfway through my class. I found we went to the same church and guess I even sold him a Christmas tree at lot I managed for a season. He had a different air to his ways, a wise ass with an above average grasp of communicating with students. It was very clear that he was there to teach. This is part of who he is and his lectures were a way to express the love he has for his profession. For a cup of coffee (without salt) he would carve some time for you to explain whatever stumped you; careful to explain things so you understood it even if a toilet analogy was necessary to clear the fog of a topic. He speaks to you as peer not just the next kid to abuse during your next practical exam. He wears his 20 some odd years of experience not as battle scars but as a journal of lessons to be shared. He challenges us to think not as medical folk but as PEOPLE with medical training and would NOT stand for us performing half assed.

    Thanks brau!

    I think many of the younger generation look past the value of mentors, a person that has the experience, wisdom and willingness to speak into the life of a newbie CAN NOT BE UNDER VALUED! Find a medic with some years on the bus; pick his brain for an hour over coffee. Listen to him, see what you can learn. That relationship could bare fruit for you both for many years.

    This is a very hard profession we love. We never get called on a person’s best day. The things we see at times can’t be made up and they will take there toll on a person and the ones they love. But having a group that will support you, push you, pick you up and teach you is a must. Without it I will fail.

    My group is my brotherhood

  4. As a New EMT that went through class with Timmer, I like him have forged life long bonds with seasoned paramedics and new EMT’s. Im goin to a local community College where I went through there fire academy and it was the same thing. The people who were in my group were always there for me whether it be girl problems or needing help out of the burn tower. The Fire service and EMS alike is a unique profession where its impossible to do it by your self, you need a brother, a sister, who they can rely on and have 110% confidence that thier brother/sister will protect them and have thier back every moment of thier shift. I have had the honor this last year making those connections with people and having that bond with people that outsiders dont understand. When I try to explain it to my dad and mom and friends they give me a blank stare that I would trust my life to someone else. Im just glad that we all have brothers and sisters that we know without a doubt in the world will be there for you. whether just to vent about how people screw you over or about a call or how hard a class is. I know My brothers / Sisters will be there.

  5. Sondra Kahler says:

    One of my favourite quotations is:
    “Friends are family you choose for yourself.”
    — Unknown (by me at least)

  6. One comment you made about your brother becoming a nurse and his opinion of EMS invoked a memory!

    Your paragraph: “He’s in nursing school right now so I get to listen to him yammer on about how nurses are the greatest thing in all of medicine. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, he’s not even out of school yet and he’s learning how to be patronizing to us EMS folk.”.

    I had a son-in-law who had a similar opinion of Paramedics (me) when he was going through nursing school. His opinion changed within his first year of working. I learned this at our family Christmas gathering when his very proud mother commented that if anything happened to any of us, he would be able to save their lives. He looked at her and said “well actually, Mom, Beth will save your lives because I have to get orders from a doctor in order to practice medicine! He wasn’t an ER nurse who has standing orders, but a critical care nurse at a pediatric hospital. Your brother will come around, maybe!