EMTs: What They Are and Aren’t

This post was depressingly inspired by the death of a 6-year-old girl in Cary, North ben_franklinCarolina. The girl was ill and having difficulty breathing. EMTs were called and came to the home. As one parent recalled,

An emergency medical technician on Friday morning said Emily had the flu and that she would “get even worse,” the post said. The family was told to keep her hydrated and that she’d be OK in a week or so.

“He asked us, ‘We can take her,’ she told WTVD-TV. “And they’re the medical personnel. I trust what they know. And they said she was fine.”(1)

The girl died a few hours after the EMTs left.

EMTs are trained to stabilize patients and transport them to a hospital emergency room for care. That’s a very important function. I’ve used them, and they’re great in the sphere that they know.

However, they aren’t doctors.(2) They are many situations that EMTs aren’t trained to handle. Asking them for advice that’s outside what they know is a problem.

It’s even more of a problem if the EMTs are unpaid volunteers, as is common throughout the US South. Volunnteers don’t necessarily have the focus or training that paid professionals have. Coverage and response times can be an issue during business hours. Cary, where the girl died, has squads that are a mix of professionals and volunteers.

Another issue is that some areas charge users for ambulance services — as much as $500 to $800 for transporting a patient to a hospital.(4) That can make poorer families reluctant to use ambulances unless absolutely necessary — and they may not use the service when it really is necessary.

Of course, we can’t say with certainty that the girl would have lived had she gone to the hospital. Her chances of survival would have been immeasurably better.

Of course, this flu season has been worse than many recently, and 30 children have died from the flu.(3) That’s not a huge number, but it’s devastating to the families suffering the losses. In the 2016-2017 flu season, 101 children died. We may be on track to pass that number this year.

One of the deadly side-effects of flu is pneumonia, and breathing difficulties can trigger heart issues. You don’t gamble on this.(5) The EMT had no business telling the parents not to worry or act.

There’s no way to read anything good into the death of a 6-year-old. However, as noted in another post, the US has a higher childhood mortality rate than the next 19 industrialized countries. We pay more for healthcare and get less.

As the LA Times posed two weeks ago:

Why the United States is ‘the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into’? (6)

Good question.

As a parent, you are your child’s advocate.  Don’t forget that, especially where health issues are concerned.


  1. https://patch.com/north-carolina/raleigh/6-year-old-flu-told-shed-be-ok-she-died-day
  2. http://www.topemttraining.com/emt-training/virginia/
  3. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/growing-number-young-children-dying-flu-n841136
  4. http://health.costhelper.com/ambulance.html
  5. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/24/579997381/aw-seriously-the-flu-can-trigger-a-heart-attack-too
  6. http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-childhood-mortality-usa-20180108-story.html


  1. Vic Crain this kind of incident is a tragedy for everyone. I am certain the EMT’s who answered this call are traumatized by what transpired. Remember there are different levels of EMT training including paramedic and basic EMT’s. Sadly, people are sent home from hospital Emergency departments all the time who die unexpectedly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael, That’s absolutely true, but I rather suspect that standards vary regionally. We already know from the CDC that life expectancies are shorter in the South and there are probably a number of contributors to that (cigs, diet), including funding and training for EMTs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loosing a patient after seeing her – especially a child – is something that impacts us all. It is something that erodes confidence and is a source of burnout. I have worked on the ambulance for several years at the basic and paramedic levels and have had some difficult cases I still recall.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.