Just Because

Anyone in Emergency Services be it Fire, Police, EMS, or even Communications we are summoned in instances that are not true emergencies, at least to us. The ‘to us’ is the important part, whether taking a call at the 911 center or arriving on the scene to a call as a unit in the field, is that to this person this is their emergency; the caller is unable to deal with the situation and needs help. Just because it’s not a ‘true emergency’ doesn’t mean that they do not deserve the same respect as someone in a ‘true emergency’ or the assistance that they’re seeking.

Obviously there are times when calls to 911 for assistance are not warranted. When the irate woman on the phone is demanding that we contact her cell phone service provider to have her turn her service back on despite lack of payment of her bill or on Black Friday when ‘that woman’ cut in front of me in line at the check out. This doesn’t mean that there are times when, despite not being an emergency, it is our place to be their ‘hero.’

You are called to the home of an 18 day old infant patient reported to be having difficulty breathing. The caller is a hysterical female and the dispatcher is having a hard time keeping control of the caller and gaining further information.

As you happen to be returning to quarters at the time, you are in the area when the call is dispatched. You pull down a side street and utilize a driveway to turn around safely on a dead-end, low traffic road. Now proceeding code 3, you return in the direction you came from and arrive on scene prior to the police. Preparing for a grab and go, you grab your oxygen duffel that includes a BVM and BLS Airways and then quickly make your way up the stairs to the apartment {which as usual is located on the third floor}.

As you reach the apartment, Dad who was at work and has just rushed home, is running up the stairs behind you. You make entry with his assistance and go into the kitchen where a panicked new mother is alone holding the baby. The baby, unaware to these events, is sleeping comfortably in her mother’s arms happy as can be. The baby is clearly in no discomfort, and is not even disturbed by the relieved EMS Crew when they check her lung sounds.

The baby’s lungs are clear bilaterally with equal chest rise and fall at a respiration rate of 42 per minute. The baby seems to be in no distress what so ever and Mom is now much calmer now that Dad and the EMS crew have arrived to her child’s rescue. You ask Mom what happened and she tells you that there had been a similar incident about a week ago where the baby had an excess amount of saliva and she choked on it. You agree with Mom’s assessment that the baby probably choked on some saliva and she had cleared her airway by coughing and was now sleeping with no distress or difficulty breathing.

You advise Mom that the baby is going to be just fine and that she doesn’t seem to be having any difficulty breathing and that her lungs sound great. Still she is very nervous, a first time mother who is concerned that there might be something wrong with her child. You continue to ask if there were any complications noted by the physician or any concerns with the infant’s ability to swallow, etc and she says no. You explain to her that you don’t think that she needs to be seen by the ER, however, you offer to take her there if it would make her feel better.

The mother tells you that she would like the baby to be seen by the doctor, just incase. You all head for the ambulance, and as you get outside, the police are arriving on scene. You have your partner take the baby to the ambulance and get mom settled in. You tell the officer what happened and that you’ll be transporting anyway and give the destination for their report. As you’re settling into the driver seat you hear over the radio the police unit calling dispatch: “Yeah we’ll be clear. Mom just freaked out because the kid coughed and EMS is transporting anyway.”

How unprofessional! Thankfully that parent was in the rear of the truck and unable to hear what the officer had said. When I first started in EMS and had learned of situations like these (being a slightly immature 18-year-old EMT) I coined the phrase “Just Because” when we transported a patient that didn’t require a BLS Transport to a facility. As I’ve become more mature and a much better pre-hospital provider I have learned that these “Just Because” patients are not any less important than those having a true emergency.

While my partner and I provided absolutely no treatment to this patient we transported her to a hospital and monitored her. We comforted Mom and Dad and we were able to act as their advocate explaining their concerns with their child’s health to the ED Staff in what was probably a more clear and concise manner.

So what is the moral of the story? Just because your “Just Because” patients/callers/victims/etc are not having what we would deem an actual emergency, doesn’t mean that it isn’t one to them. It is not up to us to determine what is or what is not an emergency to those asking for help. In situations where their concerns or feeling of needing urgent help is in good intent, we need to treat them with the same respect, courtesy, and manner that we would treat any true emergency.

A mentor of mine once said: “We are called into people’s lives when they are at their worst. Times when someone would want to hide from their family, their best friend, their loved ones and call on a perfect stranger to help. This is an honor and should be treated as such.”


  • Thank You for this. I try to impress this on a lot of my students (and new, impulsive partners from time to time). People forget the honor that comes with this job from the little, seemingly insignificant events. (having said this, I will recognize that many people in certain demographics do totally waste our time often). Very well written and I will share this.

    • Dispatcher 1 says:

      Thank you for your comments, and I appreciate you sharing my blog with others. Good luck with your students and teaching the new guys this, and of course everything else they need to know. Sometimes being a preceptor or an instructor can be quite trying but a very important role as in my experience you can really tell that when you grow as an EMT you fall back on your “EMS Parents” so to speak.

  • nancy baisley says:

    Very well written commentary. We have the same MO. As a BLS then ALS Preceptor, I always began our partnership with a conversation about kindness. Your ”Just Because” is my “You can never be kind enough”.

    Missing the street…….

  • Michael Pierce says:

    We all run into these situations including those who are sometimes known as “frequent flyers”. Mr. French (below) is correct, this job is an honor, no matter what the situation. None of us can possibly know all of a persons problems or motivations and we must treat each and every call as the most important call of the moment, because that is just what it is. I have had occasion to transport several people to emergency rooms and in each case, it was likely that they were looking for pain medication, oft times because they were addicted to opiates. Rather than assume the worst, I have looked further into each situation and have learned that for many, the real issue IS pain and Ihave been able to ask ER personnel to refer the patients to pain management specialists to hopefullyhelp treat the management of chronic problems. It is not my job, either as an EMT or as a human being to judge these patients. That job belongs to a Higher Power.

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