It’s a Man’s World

Despite the fact that XX chromosomal arrangement makes up just over half of the world’s population, we ladies represent a mere 27.1% of EMS field personnel, according to data collected in 2007 by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Services’ think-tank. This doesn’t come as a shock to most folks whose idea of a typical day at the office includes lights, sirens, blood, and guts. While gender equality has been growing with remarkable speed over the last half century, in the big, bad, primarily testosterone based world of EMS, owning ovaries can certainly bring its own sets of challenges, advantages, and moments of hilarity.

It is not uncommon for me to be the only female present on a scene. I primarily work with a male partner, and it would appear as if the city fire department that typically responds with us has an even wider male to female ratio. There are obvious benefits to this scenario. As the only female, I’m usually the smallest and most flexible in the group, which means that I am typically the likely choice to crawl into a busted up vehicle or climb through an open window to get to a patient, all of which I love to do.

On the flipside, as the only female on a scene, I’m usually the one designated to take a peek when childbirth is deemed imminent and pretty much every other scenario involving “lady parts.” While I am trained to assist in childbirth and various problems that may arise, I am not well versed in other people’s vaginas. I think a friend of mine summed up my feelings on this phenomenon when she was the only female on a scene in which she was elected to check a pregnant patient for crowning. She forged ahead boldly, viewing the only vagina she had ever seen that she wasn’t born with. The patient asked her what she saw, and she said, “I don’t see a baby, but it doesn’t look anything like mine.”

I have one dog and zero offspring. At the age of 27, this suits me just fine (although my mom is showing definite signs of an attempt to plant seeds she hopes to flower into a desire for motherhood. She recently told me, “You know how I always said the best thing about pregnancy was getting to go wherever I wanted at a Black Sabbath concert? I take it back. It ended with me having you, and you turned out pretty cool.”). The best advocate for birth control I’ve ever encountered was my clinical rotations through Labor and Delivery as a mere paramecium during paramedic school.

I’ll save you the ridiculously gory details, but just know I left positive that whoever coined childbirth as “a miracle” is a sadistic asshole with a sick sense of humor. I have a very strong stomach; I studied human decomposition in college and consider a day in which I see someone’s brain awesome. Watching and participating in the birth of a human being was the only time I ever got queasy at the sight of something…right up until I went into the surgical area to see a cesarean section, where I nearly passed out. The Labor and Delivery department of a hospital cleverly disguises the gruesome nature of their trade by covering it in stuffed animals, balloons, and happy, gender appropriate colors. I’m onto their secret. When I show up on a scene, no one knows that even thinking about my previous experience gives me shudders, and everyone automatically looks directly at me as if to say, “You there, with the vagina! You’ve got the owner’s manual on this equipment and getting a parasite out, right?” It kind of makes it unfair that testicular examinations are so rarely called for in my field.

Playing well with others can be particularly challenging from the perspective of the only female on scene. Shockingly often, I get automatically passed over to receive a report from first responders, and female coworkers have told me they frequently encounter the same phenomenon. One of my friends likes to use this opportunity to ask her male partner in a sweet, soft “girl voice” what he’d like “little ole me to do” to save the patient suffering from a critical condition, just to get to see the priceless looks on the faces of her EMT-Basic partner and first responders.

Often times, I encounter reluctance from my male constituents when presented with a female doing manual labor. I’ve been asked enough times to be relieved of carrying equipment to have a standard response on hand when they are persistent: “Well, I have something kind of heavy on each side, so if you take one of those away, I’ll probably fall over. It would really help me out if you could carry my stethoscope, though.” Luckily, I work with enough folks with great senses of humor to go along with it and keep from getting offended. I actually was once pulled aside and thanked by a Fire Captain for lifting my own stretcher, which led me to wonder what other women on the job are doing that made me worthy of gratitude for doing my job.

On the bright side of being assumed weak, feeble, powerless, and incompetent, there’s really only room for improvement when the bar is set that low. That stated, I can’t help but feel my girl power pride swell when I’m on the scene with a female firefighter or partner and we’re the ones getting stuff done. I can only imagine how much harder female firefighters and policewomen have had to work to prove they are capable; I can’t help but think of them as superheroines.

Not being taken seriously can be a drain on the soul of a woman trying to make her way in a man’s world, which I doubt is something limited to the ladies of EMS. One woman who has worked in my agency pretty much since it was formed considers her breast reduction surgery a life altering change from a career standpoint. While not all male coworkers treated her poorly prior, she noticed an obvious shift in which people started to look her in her big, brown…eyes.

Which brings us to romance. EMS is an incestuous subset of society; we have long shifts and unconventional hours that most people have difficulty understanding. It can be quite the challenge for a lady crazy enough to do a job like this to find someone willing to put up with her, so it’s no surprise that we often turn to our own kind. I’m guilty of it. Twice. While my forays into the extracurricular studies weren’t what most would see as successful, plenty of relationships in EMS work. The problem with searching for that end goal in such an exclusive community is the concept that one must kiss a few frogs before finding a prince still applies, but instead of being a frog kisser, you’re deemed a “Medic Mattress.” Obviously, we ladies love being given such esteemed titles; feel free to call each other by such designations. Of course women with high stress, low pay employment that qualifies them as adrenaline junkies would never karate chop someone in the neck for referring to them by such a crass moniker. We’re sugar and spice and everything nice.

While dating within your field has the obvious benefits of understanding each other’s stress and hours, there are plenty of disadvantages. A policewoman recently told me that she dated one of her coworkers for a while, until he began showing up on her calls and being overly protective. She was once insulted by a civilian, and nearly immediately the offender was viciously attacked by gravity and a flight of stairs, with some assistance from her boyfriend at the time. When men are told their whole lives to be knights in shining armor, it must be a bit of a challenge for them to separate themselves from that mindset on the job, despite the fact that the woman they are dating may be able to handle herself accordingly. Let us not forget the men in our field are adrenaline seekers with God complexes, too.

We ladies have a tendency to be tougher on each other than the guys are on us. Girl on girl crime is pretty rampant in EMS; chances are decent that a girl whose actions may be misconstrued to give the ladies a bad reputation will get blackballed. Personally, I’m no exception. If you work with me and you find yourself letting men do your share of the manual labor, you will either get better, or I will make your life miserable on general principle. For instance, after a long shift, I was teaching a new, female trainee to change out the big oxygen tank on the ambulance. The M tank on an ambulance is about 40 or so pounds of awkward metal and compressed air, and replacing it is feasible as a one person job. When I told the new girl that we had to remove the old tank and lift the new one into the ambulance, her eyes grew wide and she said, “Maybe we should get one of these big, strong men to do it.” Aw, hell naw. My partner, who is responsible for actually training her, knew immediately to retreat as I do not take kindly to such attitudes. He slunk away just in time to escape me yelling at her, “You have a VAGINA, not a DISABILITY!” Despite my frustration, we changed the oxygen cylinder and she eventually grew into a functioning female EMT, lifting stretchers, equipment, and oxygen tanks.

As a female responder, some awkward situations will come up on rare occasions. I was once in a patient’s home in which she had hit an emergency button, prompting the entire cavalry of police, fire, and medic staff to respond to this unknown emergency. Basically, she had fallen and couldn’t get up due to morbid obesity, and was stranded on the ground like a turtle on its back. We cancelled any further response, but one police officer did not get that memo. He came in, saw we didn’t need his assistance, and began to leave after a brief chat with my male partner. On his way out, apparently, he saw me for the first time and said, “OOOOOOOOOOOOH! Look at the pretty medic!” Like I’m an exhibit in a zoo. And here on our tour of the homo sapiens exhibit, you can see the female medicus blondinus in action. Please observe how she attends to her patient while wearing the least flattering uniform of the twenty-first century. What a fascinating creature! I’m not sure of the proper protocol in handling such a bizarre remark with grace, so I elbowed a trainee, a tall, masculine African American EMT, and told him he should thank the officer for complimenting him. The officer was not amused, but I guess you can’t win ‘em all.

A friend of mine has quite possibly the most impressive story to tell concerning being a female in EMS. This woman looks like a Barbie doll and is both brilliant and tough as nails. She ran a 911 call in a strip club where the female dancers were dressed in costumes intended to imitate uniforms. As she was carrying equipment into the club, a very intoxicated patron who apparently was unaware of any present emergency, mistook her for an exotic dancer and stuffed a $20 bill into her shirt while slurring his request for a lap dance. The manager of the club was embarrassed and incredibly apologetic. He asked her if he could do anything to alleviate the incident and she told him with a deadpan facial expression, “Well, you could collect all my dollars for me.”

The strange isn’t limited to heterosexual paramedics and EMTs, either. Another friend of mine, who would doubtfully ever be mistaken for someone who dates the opposite sex recently had a routine transfer of an old man, afflicted with dementia and useless, contracted T-Rex arms. He asked her if she was, “one of them bull-daggers.” Completely taken aback and slightly amused at the situation, she answered, “Yes, sir, I am.” The man suddenly found enough strength and flexibility in a T-Rex arm to open-palm slap her in the face. What do you do when an old, bed bound man who is not mentally coherent slaps you in the face? According to my friend, you sit there with your mouth open in shock and call your friends later to laugh about it.

In my research to discover any present articles on women in EMS, I found something that took me completely aback. A quick Google search brought me to a 2008 Women of EMS calendar, depicting paramedics and EMTs scantily clad in bathing suits or bras with bunker pants.

Photos courtesy of http://www.womenofems.com/
 

My initial, kneejerk response to this was something along the lines of outrage. Then I began to think of the double standard in using sex as a fundraising tool in public safety; I find it perfectly acceptable for men to be depicted in sexually explicit ways to raise money for the benevolent funds of fire and police systems. Why should women be any different? Despite my quest for equality, I couldn’t manage to bring myself to think of these images as anything other than a setback for women in public safety. I’ve come up with an alternate solution: perhaps there should be a calendar showing women of EMS directly after they run demanding calls. I imagine a centerfold showing a female paramedic with her messy helmet hair matted to her head with sweat following the extraction of a patient from a vehicle, blood on her shirt, standing in front of the open doors of an ambulance with equipment and blood everywhere, and a quote of “Aw, man! I got brain on my pants again!”

Female fire fighters and policewomen shouldn’t feel left out. I found skanky calendars for you guys, too. I actually found one fundraiser calendar depicting female police from Spain posing as criminals, which I found much more entertaining and artistic than minimally dressed women being suggestive while lying on a disgusting ambulance floor.

America’s Female Firefighters

Policewomen posing as criminals

I also found this douche-canoe’s website if anybody feels up to writing some hate mail. I couldn’t bring myself to take him seriously enough to actually be angry, personally.

36 Comments

  • katie says:

    Unbelievable! You have done it again! You have entertained the heck out of me. That was the perfect bedtime story. Good night from Haiti. Miss you.L,ove Katie

  • Anonymous says:

    You continue to impress me in many, many ways Tiffany. You're writing is just one incredible part of it. I will gladly carry your stethoscope for you any day.Todd Moore

  • Cat says:

    Well written and touches the truth in sooo many ways. Working females in the primary male gender areas show that women can be as strong with their bodies as with their minds… Some of my times are replayed when I read your antics(and other "delightful" endeavors !) Thank you for making my memories come back to the forefront. C

  • Anonymous says:

    Another great post by you! Black Sabbath Rocks..your mum is a smart woman.

  • Anonymous says:

    Loved the blog hun. As always, very well written and entertaining.As far as the Douche-canoe link you have, of course it would be written by a guy named Dick Masterson, go figure.

  • Anonymous says:

    If only all female EMT's and Paramedics would model themselves after you and not live up to the stereotype.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wow that was fantastic! Very well written and entertaining. =)

  • Taffy says:

    Thank you guys so much for your wonderful comments. You have no idea how awesome it is to have you folks stroke my ego! I truly appreciate you all taking the time to read my entry.Much love,Parapup

  • Mark says:

    May I just say, that you are my new hero? If it’s any consolation, I’ve encountered similar problems as a nurse that happens to be a guy (not that it compares to any of the crap females have to put up with in male-dominated professions). Stereotypes blow :)

  • C.J. says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog…..actually enjoyed it all three times I read it. I found myself wondering how my response would have been to this article twenty-one years ago when I started EMS and how it compares to my views today. Having been constructed in the typical male gender fashion, I would have likely heard myself saying “blah, blah, blah.” But as a father of three talented, intelligent, perceptive and articulate daughters, my view today is to say “thank you” to individuals like you who ultimately create more opportunity and equity for my daughters when it’s their time to enter the workforce. So…..thank you, for both your writing and what you bring to the profession.

    • Parapup says:

      Thank YOU for reading! We may be past the days of bra burning and Rosie the Riveter, but there are lots of ladies bringing a heaping dose of awesome to the workforce. Growing up, my step-dad always made me do both traditionally male and female oriented chores. I also had to pass his test before I could even dream of going to the DMV to get my license (he even timed me changing a tire, but I guess that happens when you grow up in Nascar country). Dads are awesome at helping girls grow into strong women. You, sir, rock.

  • Z says:

    Truly awesome! A relief to hear someone else with the same outlook as myself. I Knew what I was getting myself into, when I signed up to be in the EMS world, but enough already. I keep reminding myself, anything you can do, I can do better, and I’m on a mission to prove it. Petite and blonde I may be, however, brainy and bold speak volumes.

  • Well done, and welcome to the blogosphere.

    A female reader sent me a link to the douche canoe’s post a while back, but I didn’t comment mainly because I didn’t think the raving assclown deserved a rebuttal.

    When you’re entire schtick seems to be bashing women, it’s time to quit obsessing over your penis ruler and seek professional counseling.

    • Parapup says:

      Thanks! I can’t totally figure out if that guy’s site is supposed to be a farce or not. There’s an awful lot of lady-bashing on it, but I lost interest after a while.

  • Ugh. That should be “your” in the last sentence. Comments ought to have an editing function!

  • jtownfiregirl says:

    Simply hilarius and truthful! I’ve been in EMS for almost 13 years now and am still frustrated and entertained by the responses I get from patients and firefighters when I show up on scene with my male partner and he says “you’re the boss!”. I’m lucky now that I work in a rural area where at least the fire guys know me…

    • Parapup says:

      Thanks for reading!

      Fire is awesome when they’re on your side, which is almost always. I have honestly had very few instances when I truly felt I was being bashed by them for being a woman. Most of the time, I don’t think it is conscious.

      There’s that age old riddle that a father and son get into an accident and are taken to different hospitals. The surgeon comes in and says “I can’t operate on him. He’s my son.” Who is the kid’s surgeon? Most people don’t think it’s the kid’s mother right away, but it isn’t a conscious assumption that a woman wouldn’t be a surgeon. Same principle.

  • Amy says:

    Thanks for putting this out there. When I was a brand new parapup working private ambulance, most of the firefighters would give report to my male partner rather than me. Now mind you, I wasn’t completely ignored….some would openly stare at my boobs and butt, but very few actually considered that I might be the medic. I eventually had to buy a few “disco patches” from the National Registry as a visual cue for my fire dept. counterparts. After a year of proving I wasn’t just a laryngoscope-wielding ditsy blond, I finally got the respect and recognition I deserved. While, sexism in EMS has improved over the last 10 years, its still an everyday fight for some women. Thanks to all who serve and thanks for writing your column! Amy, NREMTP, RN

    • Parapup says:

      Thank you for reading! My partner (who primarily worked with other males until I weaseled my way onto his truck) told me recently that when I first started working with him as a brand new EMT, the most noticeable thing he saw was that firemen would often ask him, “Hey, who’s the blond? She single?” My partner would be like, “Dude, I’m trying to intubate here.”

      You could always bedazzle “PARAMEDIC” on the ass of your pants. My supervisor shot me down when I asked to do it. Actually, I was told I can’t bring a bedazzler to work. (I may have offered to bling out some of the equipment. It seemed like a fun idea at the time.)

  • Parapup says:

    Thanks, everyone for your kind words and taking the time to read my blog! If you get a chance, you might like some of my older ones. Unfortunately, it takes me a bit of time to write the way I like, so I probably won’t post as often as many of the other bloggers around. I hope I can keep you guys entertained and thinking with my ideas and stories! If you think of a topic you might want to throw my way to see if I can explore, feel free to drop me an email at parapupblog@gmail.com.

    P.S. I came home from a pretty rough shift, complete with my first pedi-code as a paramedic, so you have no idea how nice it was to have such wonderful comments waiting on me. :)

  • Google “male firefighter calendar” and you will get plenty of results. Apparently using sex to sell calendars is not the sole reserve of the male sex. There are male calendars from New York City and Houston as well as co-ed one from CT that features 9 men and 3 women. Maybe someone can sue for equal exploitation for women.

    As to the rest, around these parts the qualification for a women is generally that they can do the job. Perhaps the hardest part of that is lifting and carrying patients. Women who can’t do that and enlist the help of the FD generally get a lot of grief… from the women who can lift and carry and don’t call the FD for every patient that weighs more than a newborn.

    There is sexism in every field, and depending on which gender predominates in the particular field, men and women are discriminated against. Ask male elementary school teachers about that. If you can find one.

    • Parapup says:

      I like it! I hereby demand equal exploitation rights! You fellas shall now have your ass openly started at on scene, too! We ladies will get stick on porn star mustaches, too! (Have you noticed the number of porn star quality mustaches in emergency services? It’s unnerving.)

      You’re right about sexism going both ways. Male nurses, female physicians, male teachers, female bodybuilders, male beauticians, you name it. There’s not much denying that.

  • I just found your blog from a link, and this post had me doubled over laughing at some of your stories! I am also a female in EMS, and I think it is interesting how I get treated differently than my male counter parts. I frequently work on a double female crew (only 25% of our staff our female… yes I was bored and counted one day! But that percentage is higher for paramedics), and it is interesting how we interact with the VFD we run with. I personally have no problem doing my lifting (I am also the same size physically as most of the guys, so I don’t think most of them doubt my lifting ability), but if one of them comes up to me and offers to lift (in a nice way) I generally will accept it graciously. We have plenty of ambulance only calls where it is only me and my partner, or hospitals that won’t help us, so if I can save my back from lifting on a few calls, all the better :)
    I have more thoughts on this, but I am going to leave it at that now so I can finish my laundry and read the rest of your blog!

    • Parapup says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read! I totally understand the laundry phenomenon. I have the same problem.

      The last two days were filled with spherically shaped people for me. There was a lot of all hands on deck lifting going on. I’m thinking of creating a petition demanding that all people weighing over 350 lbs learn to levitate to save the backs of both male and female responders.

      I was telling one of the ladies on one of our non-emergency transport crews today about this: If there were a zombie apocalypse special response team, I’d want the NET folks on it. They’re all like “Screw your lifting assistance; I GOT this!” They never have extra hands helping out and rarely call for the cavalry for lifting assistance. Badasses.

      • Anonymous says:

        NET folks? What is this you speak of?

        • parapup says:

          NonEmergencyTransport. NET. They’re awesome EMTs on BLS trucks who take the brunt of the basic transfers and transports, (like when the little old lady goes back to the nursing home from the hospital) so that we 911 folks can find something else to bitch and whine about. NET trucks have been in my system longer than I have, and I’ve only been called out to assist a NET team with lifting a handful of times, all on patients greater than 400 lbs. They pretty much rock.

  • Ron Davis says:

    When I read your first sentence I was a little shocked because 27% did meet my experience. It took me awhile to remember when I did a shift with a crew without any women on it. Most have had at least one and many were 2 women.

    But I do all my clinicals with third party services and not Fire based ones. One HFD medic I talked to said there were “a lot of female medics” when asked. Then I asked for a percent and he said, “10-20%”. Guess he wasn’t very good at math.

    Sometimes it seems some females have too much reluctance to ask for assistance. I specifically remember getting a 300+ patient in the back of an ambulance on a 2 woman crew. Heck, I would have called for a lift assist, but not the in-charge.

    I don’t know where this falls in the continuum of discrimination, but I found a female medic much more likely to get in trouble for posing for a swimsuit calendar than a male one. http://www.emsnewbie.com/2010/12/emts-bikinis-and-controversy/

    • parapup says:

      My own reaction to the swimsuit thing surprised me.  I’m all about equality, but this appears to be a double standard.  We ladies know that we’re in the minority, and we work hard to keep ourselves from being perceived as weak.  We get enough crap just for being female.  Just this morning, a coworker told me my job was to do the laundry, cook, and clean.  While it may be all fun and games, at the heart of the issue, women will probably always have a fair amount of insecurity on this topic.  Thanks for reading! 

  • I love this. :) When I was a basic, I had a male medic partner.  I automatically was assigned (by him) the OB/GYN and kid calls.  I particularly laughed at “You there, with the vagina! You’ve got the owner’s manual on this equipment and getting a parasite out, right?” Pure awesome-sauce.

    • parapup says:

      I actually said on a scene once, “What?  I don’t want to look at her cookie either.”  I don’t always think before I speak.  ;)  Thanks for reading. 

  • Geoffrey Horning says:

    Loved it!  Great entry

  • guest says:

    I’m starting EMS classes come August, and all I’d seen until this post was the douche-canoe website and the scantily-clad calendar girls. I was losing hope. Thanks for writing something legitimate on this.

  • Heatherbee09 says:

    This is great!! I completely understand about being the only woman on many calls- I am the only female on my crew!

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Tiffany Nash

JEMS Talk: Google Hangout

Recent Posts
Space Cadet January 12, 2013
My New Favorite Song November 20, 2012
Playing well with others October 24, 2012
I have facial droop! June 26, 2012
Pride in Safety! June 25, 2012
Comments
RealMedics
Space Cadet
AWESOME. We would have been right there with you... until we saw Gravity in 3D, that is... :-)
2013-10-29 22:25:00
Tom Bouthillet
Space Cadet
Why yes! I do have a favorite astrophysicist or two! :) Awesome blog post.
2013-03-21 11:18:00
Gabrielamccoy
My New Favorite Song
WTF!?! ! I SENT that to him. Credit stealer. It was your Venenzuelan cousin!!!
2013-01-11 13:48:00
Ambodave
Pride in Safety!
Why have I not visited here for so long? You make me laugh! Cheers, Dave in Australia
2012-12-30 13:58:00
tangle
My New Favorite Song
That's so awesome! Have you seen the Canadian PSA for bystander CPR? Holy Zombie Apocalypse, it's fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN4STZwjORw
2012-12-10 03:17:00
Taking It With You
Taking It With You
Night at the Movies
Night at the Movies
A REAL Emergency!
A REAL Emergency!
What is Experience?
What is Experience?
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Streets: Nine and a Half D

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