This is a touchy subject, but I'm going to open it up for discussion anyway. Recently, I was at a grocery store when I saw the Star of Life on a T-shirt ahead of me. Sadly, the people in the group who were advertising that they were EMS professionals had … let’s say, very poor hygiene. Not only did they look unkempt, but they looked and smelled like they hadn't taken showers in quite a while. When another shopper commented aloud about this, I wondered whether the shopper, and others in the store, were associating bad hygiene with this EMS organization -- or even worse with the profession as a whole.

I also wondered whether it was common – or ethical – for EMS organizations to have rules about how their members appear whenever they’re dressed in uniform or EMS-related attire? You could be the best clinician in the world, but what happens when your patients don't want you showing up at their house or touching them?

Does your organization have a dress code for members who are off the clock? Should it?

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There's no excuse for not being clean while working on a patient, whether you're a volunteer or work for a paid service. Being unclean while doing pt. care puts the pt. even more at risk than they were to start with. Our goal is to help patients, not make them sicker.

chele said:
I'm one of those that you might catch in the store not smelling so good. I'm on a volunteer service. Because I'm "on call" nearly all the time, I wear my EMS shirts nearly all the time. I can't hardly just sit around looking professional and staying clean 24/7. There's a good chance I'll be on the ambulance after riding my horses or picking up their poop. If the wind is in the wrong direction, I could be fairly ripe by the time the pager goes off. I've stopped in the store in the late afternoon, after being paged out at 2 a.m.; going from bed, to barn, to scene, to hospital, to town 3 hours away and back again without ever having a chance to brush my hair or teeth. I was also on call while taking my FF1 course, and you can bet I was ripe after wearing bunker gear all day in July, but if we'd have been paged, I'd have responded. I probably went to the grocery store after class too - had to fix supper you know.

The moral to my story is that there may be more to why this group of techs looked/smelled poorly. As long as they aren't buying liqour in uniform/identifying clothing, then I'm not going to worry too much about their appearance.
You are absolutely right Zach. With privilges come responsibilities. We should be held to an ever higher standard than the average citizen and if we are going to display that via license plates than we should make sure that the statement those plates make to the public is "I have these plates so you will know I am here to help" not "I have these plates so I can speed and get away with it"! We have had issues in a department I was involved with in the past with members drinking in public with agency identifying clothing on. It is embarrasing and detrimental to morale and credibility. As far as wearing identifying clothing in other "venues" my feeling is: If you are going to advertise that you are an EMS professional LOOK like a professional! :-)

Zach Bieghler said:
I've only worked with one service, Sedgwick County EMS, that has a policy about this. Their policy, at least as it was 4 years ago, stated that no service identifying clothing shall be worn off duty. This policy was just limited to service specific clothing though. I think that it is more of a understanding that when you wear EMS identification, you should use common sense. Hopefully, one takes pride in their profession and represents it well. Having said that I pose another question. Here in Kansas, legislation adopted EMS License Plates for your vehicle to replace the state plate. This comes a few years after they adopted a similar Firefighter tag. What do people think of this. As you all know, we all respond to car accidents. Now we have to set an example and abide all traffic laws. I think that if you choose to use the Kansas tag, you should be willing to except this responsibility. That means that volunteer EMS and firefighters can't speed to get to the fire or call in there POV. I know a lot of people drink and drive and this doesn't exclude us EMS and Fire professionals. I hope that a LEO won't be leanient on the law braker just because of the tag that's on the vehicle.
When asked what I do for work I usually say I am a plumber from Idaho.

I don't wear EMS related clothing, have no stickers on my car but Yes I have a small trauma bag in the car mostly for the idiots in my family that do something stupid.

I am proud to be an EMS'er for the past 20+ years but don't think riding around with lights all over my car, tee shirts advertising what I do or carry a scanner on my belt to listen for the big one when I am off is something I need to prove who I am or what I do.

I have a scanner but its one of those old radio shack ones with crystals....I don't even think it will turn on due to the dust bunnies that have settled on it.

As far as what goes on prior/post shift. We are not allowed to wear uniforms out to eat, shopping, or what have you. Most of ou are sure to change in the locker room prior to shift change.
I have been a member of an EMS organization that takes off-duty behavior VERY seriously. Public Relations is one of our most important challenges in EMS. We had policies at our agency that prohibited wearing radio equipment or uniform apparel of any kind at any establishment generally associated with the consumption of alcohol - for instance. We routinely reminded members that when driving their POV with one of our license plate frames on it - that meant they were representing our organization.

The simple fact is that you represent your organization on and off duty if you're wearing something or displaying something that, to the public, identifies you as an EMS provider. The general public does not distinguish between on-duty and off-duty as a general rule. And for that reason, all EMS agencies need to be especially sensitive to the off-duty behavior of their members. Does it have to be in a policy? No, certainly not. But maybe we should think twice about admitting members who can't seem to present themselves professionally in public - those aren't the kind of people need as a face for our beloved organizations.

I recently posted on the topic of public relations for Collegiate EMS Agencies on my blog

Colin (
"How do you represent EMS while off the clock?"

Simple, I don't represent EMS off the clock. Nothing on my car identifies myself as being an EMT (no bumper stickers, special license plates, emergency lights (even if I could get them, I wouldn't), stickers, badges, etc) and the only time I wear any part of my uniform is if I need a rain jacket because I can't find my umbrella. Even then, the only identifying mark is the logo over the left breast of the jacket (nothing on back).

Still, out of respect for myself, I don't go out and get wasted, or act like a slob anyways, so it's a pretty moot point.
For me, I believe in professionalism both on and off the clock. When you choose to become a public servant you are always in the spotlight to somebody. We set examples, we are community leaders. And yes we are human but when one chooses this field of public service, there is responsibility and accountability that goes with the "job".

When I am off the clock and out of uniform, I can relax to a point. If I am wearing a shirt or jacket with any sort of badge or patch on it- I act accordingly as if i were on the clock. When in uniform, my creases are neat, shoes shined and all closures are lined up- buttons, belt, etc.. My father was a policeman and I grew up watching him as a public servant who took his role very seriously. Folks should have a sense of pride. If they are off the clock but in the colors than they should represent well- not like a bunch of slap shoe, thread bare hillbillies!
Im currently working on getting my EMT-B license, so Im not affiliated with any district, but there is a lady that walks around town where I live she sits on the side walks and is pretty much homeless, I was driving to work one day and saw that she had a Fire shirt on that represented our city. A part of me thought how bad that looked on the dept. but then another part of me thought shes homeless at least she has a shirt to wear, I also saw dept. shirts being sold at yard sales...Im not sure what the SOP's are here because again Im not on the dept. but this does not give a good impression.

Good point Jennifer
God Bless Jamie
I agree 100% with you Skip

Skip Kirkwood said:
Jennifer, you're way perceptive.

EMS folk are schizophrenic in this regard. They want to be recognized, respected, and compensated as professionals. Yet, many don't seem to understand that this won't happen if they exhibit unprofessional behavior and appearance.

This extends to things like:

-Smoking in public while identified with an EMS agency (uniform or EMS-marked off-duty clothing).

-How you speak to people.

-How you write on blogs, etc. (poor grammar, poor sentences, use of foul language).

-Presenting an un-hygenic or slovenly appearance.

That's not how professionals present themselves, on duty or off!

Remember the TV show "Rescue 911"? Once upon a time I was in an airport lounge, and that show was on. A guy sitting next to me, seeing my EMS-affiliated luggage tag, said to me, "You know, you can tell who are the cops and firefighters by their uniforms and equipment at these scenes - how come the EMS (well, he said "ambulance") guys always look like slobs?" And there it was on the 42" screen, a way obese guy in blue jeans that had travelled too far south on his anatomy, a striped T shirt not tucked in (bad visual from the posterior aspect), and a ball hat on backwards.

What to say? If you want respect, you've got to earn respect and be respectable!

And you only get one chance to make a first impression.

I have to agree with Skip and he took it way to far. His first point was the most critical. How do you expect to be respected as an EMS professional if you smoke. You clearly have some personal shortcomings and need help. You smell. Your clothes smell, your car smells, your hous smells, you leave behind your stench in the ambulance...ect. We can have a 16yo admitted because he is depressed over his first love but an EMS professional can stand outside of their ambulance and smoke and we(the EMS professionals) don't see something wrong with this.??????? I take transfers from one hospital to another for cardiac catherization. 99% of my pt's smoke and/or smoked. HELLO people. What? more? do ? you? need? to know??????


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