So You Want to be an EMT Basic - A few things everyone should know about Emergency Medical Technicians


Long gone are the days of simply giving a sick or injured person a ride to the nearest hospital. Today's EMTs have seen changes in their training that takes them far beyond a simple "Taxi Service".

Emergency medical responders in history

History tells us of first responders far back into ancient times. Recordings of persons rendering aid to those sick and injured, and even helping to transport them back to medical help is well documented. However, in the 1960's the transition of what most people think of when considering an emergency responder began. A report published in 1966 called Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society, otherwise known as "The White Paper", called for a change in the way our ambulance services were kept and the training required from those that responded on them. The White paper deemed that standards in emergency medical care needed upgraded, and that there needed to be standards set up to dictate the type of trained personnel and supplies that should be carried on an ambulance. The report led to the modern version of the Emergency Medical Technician, which now continues to advance into more complex emergency medicine.

Modern Emergency Medical Services (EMS)

Society got its first glimpse of the result of what would become of EMTs and Paramedics in the 1970s. In 1972 the TV show Emergency! aired, and gave the general public their first insight into the dramatic changes that EMS professionals had undergone. Not only were rescue personnel shown to be providing in-field care that patients were in desperate need of, but the television show also helped launch many previously unaware people into a new career. Fire departments and ambulance services began to see a huge influx of people seeking training and jobs in this new career that was so dramatically portrayed on TV.

Since the modern idea of emergency medical responders was first created, many changes have now occurred. A wide range of certification and training levels has been created and patient care respectively. Emergency responder levels now start with such basic things as simply safely driving an emergency vehicle to advanced care in the field including advanced airway management, drug administration and orthopedic and wound management.

Training for emergency medical personnel

When considering an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), you must understand that the title encompasses many levels, depending on the state certified in. In most states an EMT is regarded as a 3-5 level certification, beginning with EMT-Basic and ending with EMT-Paramedic. Training for these different levels ranged from a certification course that can take as little as 2 weeks in some cases and up to Associate degrees for Paramedics. Those wanting to join the Emergency Medical Services can usually find several local training facilities, most of which are operated by local ambulance services or fire departments, however more and more accredited teaching institutions are now offering EMT programs to local residents, and the future will surely offer many avenues of online training.

The role of an EMT Basic

Considering that most people are just entering the field of Emergency Medical Services, we will focus on the basic EMT. An EMT Basic, as referred to in many states, is considered the "entry" point for most into EMS. Training as an EMT Basic usually consist of a course that spans approximately 160 hours, which will usually take about 3-4 months for most to complete by attending 2-3 days/nights per week. Night courses are generally offered, especially since the required age in most states for an EMT certification is 18, and most deal with current employment and families.

The EMT Basic's job duties will usually include being responsible for driving an ambulance or fire vehicle to and from scenes, as well as providing basic care to patients. In most states, many ambulances are operated solely by EMTs with access to call for the intervention of a Paramedic as needed. Many dispatch protocols triage patients based on call information, and will dispatch a basic EMT squad to the scene of incidents that, according to information given by the caller, will not require advanced airway or pharmaceutical measures. However, today's EMTs are trained to effectively handle every emergency they may encounter.

Today's EMTs are trained in such things as airway management using tools such as breathing tubes and airway management machinery such as ventilators. They are also skilled in management of orthopedic injuries and use various splinting techniques, along with devices such as traction splints and cervical spine stabilization. Basic EMTs are also trained how to effectively manage wounds and to prevent blood loss. Many different care techniques such as simple bandages and up to advanced measures such as tamponade (using pressure points to inhibit blood flow) and wound cleaning and sterilization. EMTs working the streets today are also carrying automatic and manually cardiac monitoring and defibrillation devices, and can effectively use them to defibrillate a person's heart, as well as use them for prevention and diagnostic mechanics given to ER staff. Although most pharmaceutical medicine is left for advanced EMT levels such as Paramedics in the field, EMTs also are trained to use such medicinal measures as metered dose inhalers, epinephrine devices such as EpiPens, and some oral medications like Aspirin.

How does an EMT advance their career and what sort of pay scale is available?

An EMT can quickly find themselves with many options for advancement. Many Emergency Medical Services offer paid training for EMTs that include everything from Advanced EMT and Paramedic programs up to Management training for EMTs. Although a great many EMTs remain perfectly happy at the basic level, most will find themselves wanting more training that will both allow them to offer better patient care, as well as offer higher pay scales. Depending on the state of certification, an EMT has the option of taking training in several steps that allow the EMT to provide more advanced skills as they take their courses. Most EMTs will eventually strive to become Paramedics from a 1 to 2 year program, or they take the next step into Emergency Services Management.

Pay scales for EMTs vary widely. They differ depending on the level of certification and the state they work in. However, an EMT basic can expect to earn from $25,000 - $35,000 on an average, and in some cases a great deal more, depending on their placement in their department. While pay for an EMT may seem low, one has to consider that in many services, an EMT will work on a 24 hour shift rotation schedule. This schedule places an EMT "On duty" for 24 hours for usually 2 days per week, but allows that EMT to be "Off duty" for the remaining 5 days of the week. Many EMTs will find that this type of schedule allows them to easily work at more than one department, which can virtually double their income, while still allowing them 3 days of time home with their families per week. The idea of being away from home for 4 days per week may seem severe, but many professions, such as military, truck driving, and off shore companies may require their employees to be gone for weeks and even months, just to earn similar incomes.

The future of the Emergency Medical Technician

While the future of EMTs is not certain, the advances that have been made in their training over the past 30 years is evidence that the advancements in training for an EMT will only continue to grow. As more and more EMTs begin to replace Paramedics that are now exiting the "streets" to fill positions in hospitals and clinical care, the training for EMTs is also seeing upgrades that teach the skills needed without having to be dedicated to a full time educational requirement. Education for EMTs is instead being given at intervals that allow that EMT to function with their new training at each stage.

EMTs are also finding new opportunities in business and management areas of Emergency Services. Programs such as the Bachelors in EMS Management Degree, as well as programs available in Fire Science and Homeland Security are becoming widely popular among EMTs. The once limited profession of an EMT has quickly changed into a starting block for many to jump ahead into more advanced careers that offer governmental benefits and pay scales.

Find an EMT or Paramedic class near you!

Find College Degrees
Need Stories