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  • Writer's pictureTony

Ray Hawkins: On Thoughtfully Reversing Professional Hubris

An excerpt from 'Grady Medic: Tales of Atlanta':


“The only thing this fucking circus is missing is a fucking tent.”


  My own words echoed in the cloud of smoke and silence of the EMS Director’s office as the television videotape played on for my personal discomfort. The television screen showed members of the Fire Department using the ‘Jaws of Life’ to cut through the ‘A’ post on the driver’s side of a wrecked vehicle resting on the curved interstate exit ramp. The silhouette of the driver’s head could be seen through the back window of the vehicle.


  The knot in my stomach tightened as I watched myself crossing from left to right across the television screen. The video image became a rather crisp close-up shot of my hand easily opening the passenger side door.


  Once the door was open, I watched myself lean onto the roof of the car as I called out cheerfully to the firefighters, “Work smart, not hard. How about me getting a couple of you assholes to help me get this guy out of the car? You know since he isn’t really trapped or anything.” I paused and looked down the ramp past the camera to an approaching Grady ambulance. “Never mind, the varsity squad is here. We’ve got it. Thanks for all the help!” This being followed by a soft statement of “If the sumbitch ain’t on fire, these fuckers are like tits on a boar hog.”


  The remainder of the tape showed me working with the paramedics to apply a Kendrick Extrication Device before moving the patient to a long spine board. I had to admit that the extrication and treatment by my paramedics followed textbook procedure.


  Then, the videotape ended.


  Ray Hawkins, the Director of Grady EMS, sat silently in his chair as he tapped his ever-present pipestem against his lips. I truly hated it when Ray was considering his initial statement in a thoughtful, reflective manner. As both an employee and supervisor, I had experienced quite a few ‘disciplinary discussions’ that found me with his teeth marks on my ass during my first decade of employment. I had never seen him carefully reflect before speaking. Yep, I was neck deep in shit.


  Ray turned his chair toward me and spoke softly. “This was brought to me by the reporter who rode with you a few nights ago.”


  “Yes, sir. I remember.”


  He tapped the pipe against his lips before speaking once more. “It was a simple public relations ride-along, that’s all. Can you explain how this happened?”


  “May I ask a question first?”


  “Sure. Why not?” The Director leaned back in his chair. “I doubt that anything you ask would make this fiasco any worse than it already is.”


  I coughed to clear my throat. “Do you want a great lie and apology or just the truth?”


  Ray leaned forward with his eyes fixed on me. “Try the truth because you don’t lie worth a damn.”


  “First off, I didn’t volunteer to do this PR crap. I was told to load them in a truck and take them out on some calls. I did. Second, they put that damned microphone in my shirt pocket. How was I to know when they were recording what I said? I forgot about it.”


  I pointed at the dark television screen. “Have you ever seen me act like I wanted to be on television? No, because I know me. I knew I was going to somehow get my happy ass in trouble over it. Sure as hell, there it is. What did you expect me to do or say? I’m watching them screw up left and right because they wanted to play with their toys. Did they bother to check the door? No. Did they bother to access the patient? No. Here’s the truth of the issue. That patient needed medical care in their ‘hot zone’ and our beloved fire department forgot all about that poor bastard in the car.”


    I was getting angry. “Here’s how this stick floats for me. I expect them to do their jobs right. If they can’t, I will. If I hurt their feelings because they screwed up and it was filmed, tough shit. You saw the video yourself. Were my comments inaccurate? ‘Spot on’ is the proper term. What has everybody’s shorts in a knot is my language. We both know that’s bullshit. I have the all the diplomacy of a hand grenade tossed into a confined space. If you’re going to do something idiotic, don’t do it in front of me. I can and will let you know about it; especially if it can hurt a patient.”


  I pointed back at the television. “Did my team do anything wrong? Nope, it was by the book.” I looked at the blank screen for a moment. “Where the hell are the other clips? We ran several calls before that wreck. What about them?”


  Ray Hawkins smiled at me. “Oh, I’ve seen them. In fact, the reporter was actually quite complimentary about the care given to our patients in the field. She did say that you were a bit rough around the edges with your language. However, she said that they would be deleting your audio feed before airing the videotape.”


  He leaned on the desk. “All in all, I am pleased with the patient's outcome and your actions.” The small man leaned back in his chair. “Rest assured that they will be serving ice water in Hell before I ever allow you to ride with a reporter again. Go back to work.”


  I recall starting for the door when he stopped me, “Another moment before you leave.” He leveled his eyes at me with an expression that left no doubt in my mind as to his level of seriousness on the topic. “We work with the fire department, not in competition. You would do well to maintain a better understanding of how they work and their command structure. Unlike our EMS crews, they have a strict chain of command on each scene guiding their actions. I would think that guidance offered by you might work quite a bit better for a smooth operation rather than making smartass comments on a scene.”


  He pointed his pipe to place emphasis on his final point. “You are my representative on the scene. Do not let me hear of you crossing this line again. I expect professional behavior at all levels, especially in supervision. You set the tone and behavior for the medics at a scene and I expect the best.” He smiled at me. “We’ll call this a lesson learned and leave it at that.”


  I walked out the door suitably chastised. Ray Hawkins had once more been right with all of his points and should have terminated my employment on the spot. What I said about and my behavior with another public safety agency was reprehensible. Yet, he presented a brash young man with an opportunity to grow and learn, rather than act out of hand to fix the problem.


  I did learn and improve. I spent quite a few duty hours each week out at the various fire stations meeting with the firefighters and their officers. Respect was given and earned by both agencies in these informal meetings and meals shared together at their stations. I still, 20 years later, have friends within fire service; people I learned to entrust with life of various calls throughout my career. The rapport established allowed us to work together as a coordinated team to improve the quality of patient care delivered.


  A medic’s hubris is a difficult habit to discard. However, discarding a ‘we’re better’ attitude opened my eyes to a world unseen by a different agency with a looser command structure. We still gave each other a hard time in a brotherly manner, as siblings always do. However, admitting that I was wrong allowed me to grow and learn to love my fire service brothers.


  All of which brings me back to another point; Ray Hawkins was an EMS leader. He took a chance on me and allowed me to learn from my errors when he didn’t need to do so. The man is long gone from this life and my memories of him are still distinct. He was a man who inspired change and growth within his staff by setting an example for others to follow. That alone serves to define the word ‘leadership’.


  (I would also note that to this day, I still avoid news reporters like the plague. As others might also observe, I still have all the tact and diplomacy of a tornado visited upon a metropolitan area.)

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