What started out as a suggested means of post-injury therapy for one firefighter/paramedic has transformed into a web-based exchange program that, through the use of social media, has excited, involved and evolved throughout the international EMS community.
Elsevier Senior Editor Cindy Devone-Pacheco speaks with Mark Glencourse (aka 'Medic 999') at the Chronicles of EMS Premiere. (A.J. Heightman photo) See More Photos of the Premiere
Elsevier Senior Editor Cindy Devone-Pacheco speaks with Justin Shorr (aka 'Happy Medic') at the Chronicles of EMS Premiere. (A.J. Heightman photo) See More Photos of the Premiere
The reality series, called the “Chronicles of EMS” (CoEMS) began with Justin Schorr, a firefighter/paramedic with the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) who suffered a serious job-related injury after a roof collapse at a fire scene in 2007. As part of his recovery, it was suggested he start a journal about his experience. Instead, Schorr chose to start a blog so he could share his thoughts with others in the EMS/firefighting community.
Through his communication with other bloggers in the EMS community, Schorr met Mark Glencourse, an EMT from the UK, and Thaddeus Setla, a documentary filmmaker, editor and cinematographer whose previous work includes “Level Zero”, http://levelzeromovie.com/ a film profiling Alameda County (Calif.) EMS. The result of their meeting: the birth of CoEMS, an audience-driven, web-based reality series that will profile different fire/EMS departments’ operations in various countries around the world.
The idea to use social media as a medium for the show is both innovative and controversial. Social media sites are currently enjoying a bit of a financial boom amid the lingering economic crisis, but many departments and individuals have either not been aware of its reach and resources or are avoiding it, either by choice or due to department policy, because of the damage it can do to a department’s image. Glencourse admits his own department is concerned about the use of social media, and has been slow to grant final approval for camera crews to enter into the inner circle of emergency scenes, but he’s quick to point out that “it’s not the fact that you’re using social media, it’s how you’re using it that can help or hurt you.”
But the big question is will the audience remain engaged enough to drive the show?
If the premier was any indication as to how that question may be answered, the project is sure to be a success. On Friday, Feb. 12, the premier episode of CoEMS debuted to a ballroom full of enthusiastic sponsors, emergency personnel, media and other interested parties and supporters at the Hotel Frank in downtown San Francisco. Also present were the film’s stars, Schorr and Glencourse, who availed themselves to the crowd both before and after the debut.
The episode followed a week in the work life of Glencourse, who accompanied Schorr on shifts in San Francisco, responding to calls with the SFFD. Calls included everything from a minor laceration, to chest pain, to homeless individuals just looking for a place to sleep. Several featured language barriers that the crew had to resolve in addition to the medical problems presented.
Perhaps the most engaging segment was a call involving an 83-year-old man whose swollen feet and high blood pressure didn’t concern him nearly as much as the cost he knew he’d incur after taking an ambulance ride to the hospital. While Schorr tried to calm the individual, Glencourse (from a universal healthcare environment in England) was obviously affected by the man’s comments. When questioned about his feelings toward the man’s concerns, as well as the issue of paying for healthcare in general, Glencourse responded: “It’s wrong. That’s going to be my blog tale tonight.”
Many portions of the first episode as well as its final moments were met with raucous applause. In one scene Schorr asks his patient to rank his pain on a scale of 1 to 10 and, without hesitation (and no coaching) he replies, “It’s 1,000!”
Later, when asked when it hurts, the victim says it hurts “Any time it supposes it wants to!”
In a later segment, Schorr (who was successful on four out of four IV attempts) tells a patient that “he might feel a little poke on the count of three” and counts – “1; 3” stick. The audience, most of whom could relate to the medical trickery anf humor, laughed in recognition of the “performance” by Schorr.
“This [the audience reaction] is better than what I expected,” Glencourse admits, smiling. “It’s a work in progress, but the premier is real and personal; there was nothing scripted.”
One of the bigger questions on everyone’s mind prior to the premier was just how the reality series was going to be interactive. “The continuation of the show depends on the direction the audience wants to take it,” Glencourse explains. “Once the premier episode is released [online], we’ll figure out where to go via audience feedback.”
A.J. Heightman, Editor-in-Chief of JEMS and himself a paramedic, felt the premier episode was a hit, truly capturing the essence, professionalism and compassion of EMS. “The interaction with the patients was real and sincere,” says Heightman. “Schorr came off as the type of responder I would want taking care of my family.”
Heightman said that he felt the educational aspects presented by the Chronicles should not be underestimated. For example, in a clever, post-incident discussion filmed behind an ambulance, Glencourse points out to Schorr how the call they just handled in San Franscisco might be handled in England, where not every patient who calls for EMS is transported by EMS.
Glencourse says, “Even though he [the patient] said a lot of the ‘magic words’ [the public knows], we wouldn’t necessarily transport him in the UK.”
The series premier featured plenty of action, patient interfaces and follow-up commentary, and held the audience’s attention throughout the entire 18 minutes. In one scene, a patient without a true chief complaint, tells Schorr “There must be something wrong with me!” Schorr cleverly tells the patient, “Well, not exactly. It may just be that something is not exactly right. They’re two entirely different things!”
“It’s scenes like that that make Justin [Schorr] a real rescuer that providers can relate to,” says Heightman.
The support and interest from A.J and the JEMS team was unbelievable and I know that the whole CoEMS team are looking forward to working with you all in the future to move forward with EMS 2.0 and finally turning EMS systems into truly professionally recognised services delivered by respected health care professionals.
I look forward to meeting everyone again, as well as many people I have yet to meet in person, in Baltimore next month.
I can't say enough just how excited I am about the opportunities CoEMS will bring for the advancement of our profession. This was an unbiased and clear look into the everyday operations of emergency service providers. The public will appreciate the real "drama" that everyday life presents even while out of the cameras peering eye.
The creators of NBC’s "Trauma" openly stated that the public demanded a certain level of drama and had expectations of what could or should occur in EMS. Because the producers catered to a perception instead of realistically seeking and depicting the truth, "Trauma" was destined for failure from the beginning.
CoEMS is raw and unscripted; it's honest about the everyday lives of the citizens who activate the EMS system and it is for this reason alone that I believe it will have a lasting impact across the societal spectrum. The opportunities to effect change from social perception to political persuasion are endless.