A Day in the Life of an EMT
Oct 31, 2018 08:19AM
By Sarah Tuthill
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Chastity Mastandrea
After getting her two sons off to school, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Chastity Mastandrea makes a short commute to the Shaler Hampton EMS headquarters in Glenshaw to begin her 16-hour shift. A single mother, she typically starts at 8 a.m., but after seven years in the field, she’s quick to point out that there’s no such thing as typical when it comes to emergency services.
“You just never know what the shift will bring,” she said.
Despite the day’s ensuing unpredictability, the morning always starts with a debriefing meeting, followed by the ‘truck check’—a comprehensive inspection of the Advanced Life Support (ALS) rig that Mastandrea and the medic she works with use on calls.
“It’s a detailed checklist—from ensuring that all of the radios and communication systems are working properly to making sure that the first-in bag is stocked,” she said, referring to the bag that EMTs bring on site to every emergency. “We have to make sure that nothing is expired, that all the supplies are there. If there are supposed to be 10 Band-Aids, we will make sure that there are 10 Band-Aids.”
If a call doesn’t come in—though it often does—the morning routine continues with a deep cleaning and decontamination inside and outside of the rig. “If we don’t get duties of an EMS, we do laundry. We scrub the bathrooms. And sometimes we cook a nice meal…which is usually when the tones go off,” Mastandrea quipped.
The ‘tones’ are a set of rings unique to each unit or station that sound when an emergency call comes in. Most emergency calls last one to two hours, and with an average of 14 calls in 24 hours, a shift at an EMS like Shaler Hampton can be taxing.
“During overnight shifts, EMTs don’t get much sleep,” Mastandrea admitted.
Upon returning from each call, the crew must document the incident and fill out a patient care report. “Once you decompress and try to get some sleep, another call comes in,” she added.
Indeed, it takes a special set of skills to be an EMT; technicians must complete training and be certified by the National Registry of EMTs and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
“In addition to certification, what I look for is someone who can think critically,” said Anthony Reeves, who runs Sports Medic 2 the Rescue in Bakerstown, PA, a private company providing on-site medical coverage for a wide range of community events. “EMTs have to stay calm and focused. They have to be problem-solvers, and do the very best they can do given the unpredictable circumstances.”
Case in point: Mastandrea was off duty when she came upon a motorcycle accident. “I was the first on the scene. As an EMT, I knew how to remain calm and ask the right questions,” she recalled. “I always have some supplies on hand, but the driver had an obvious leg injury that needed to be stabilized. I had to think quickly, so I found a box and configured it to use to stabilize the injured leg.”
Reeves said that a good EMT also has to be able to compartmentalize emotions. “You never know what you will walk into, but you have to put your own emotions aside,” he said. “Your job is to de-escalate the situation.”
Mastandrea concurred. “As an EMT, you have to remember that this is not your emergency. It is theirs.”
Mastandrea has seen her share of life-or-death trauma, like being first on the scene at a cardiac arrest call. “It was what we call a perfect storm. We were able to resuscitate, and within eight minutes, the patient was at the hospital.”
Each year, on the anniversary of his heart attack, the man comes to the station to celebrate life with Shaler Hampton staff.
Though EMTs are always prepared for the worst, not all calls are as taxing, like a recent call to a senior high-rise where an elderly woman who had just been discharged from the hospital with a boot on her leg had tripped. “We helped her get back on her feet and as we were leaving, she asked if we could help her to bed,” Mastandrea said, adding that she and the medic tucked the woman in. “She was so grateful.”
Whether an EMT works for a township or municipality, a hospital, or a private company like Sports Medic 2 the Rescue, most agree that the satisfaction comes from the people they serve. “I just love working and living in this community; sometimes people actually pick up our bill at a restaurant!” said Mastandrea. “Those are the kinds of experiences that make you feel special.”