Our brethren in New Jersey were insulted and I am furious.
(an opinion piece by Chelle Cordero)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published its findings about the tragic accident which severely injured comedian Tracey Morgan and killed his colleague and friend James McNair last year. Citing various mitigating factors they included an overtired truck driver, lack of seatbelt use, speed, and poor emergency response.

According to the NTSB it took emergency workers 37 minutes to get the van’s occupants out. Investigator Thomas Barth claimed that inadequate training and a lack of appropriate precautions added to the seriousness of the injuries; he later added that New Jersey has no minimum requirement for emergency responder training and certification.

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt added an insult saying “a cosmetologist in New Jersey has to have more training than an emergency worker.” (Come to think of it, Sumwalt was also insulting cosmetologists by using their training as an inadequate standard.)

For those who are not aware of the extensive skill and training that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responders go through in New Jersey and all states throughout the United States, here are some of the subjects covered in a Basic EMT class: study of the human body; medical, ethical, and legal issues in emergency medical services; trauma patient assessment; bleeding control method; managing shocks; lifting and moving dead bodies; managing head, spine, and neck injuries; managing soft tissues injuries; respiratory emergencies; environmental emergencies; oxygen administration; applying bandages on wounds; and cardiac emergencies, etc. Since patients usually have not read the “textbook”, EMS responders have to be able to think and act quickly even in the face of danger, hazards and high emotions.

There are various levels of certification; all must start with basic first response training (at least 40-hours). A Basic EMT class includes a minimum of 120-hours of classroom training and practical skills and is a necessary first step for any trained responder. EMT-Intermediate training is an ADDITIONAL 320-hours of training. EMT-Paramedics need to complete another 1000-to-1200-hours of training which is equivalent to a college associate degree in several states. The cost of an EMS education in New Jersey can be more than $6,000.00. And by the way, volunteers wearing an EMT patch receive the same instruction as paid EMS, they are all professionals.

In regard to Sumwalt’s assertion, New Jersey requires cosmetology students to undergo 1200-training hours at an approved school to learn hair cutting, coloring and styling, manicures and pedicures, makeup, and some also learn about care. Cosmetology training is definitely not shabby, but if you are in a accident or suffering an acute illness, you probably won’t be thinking of having you hair done. There is no comparison between the two.

While I was not at the scene of this horrendous accident and I was not involved in the investigation, as a NYS EMT for nearly three decades, I responded to numerous car accidents. Depending on the condition of the vehicle(s), rescue may have involved “cutting a car open” in order to have access to the patient(s) — this process is often timely and could prove dangerous if not done properly. This could easily have accounted for the delayed extrication and transportation to the hospital. While there are rare instances where an EMS response could have done more, it would be an easy bet to say that EMS responders save lives and more often allow for better survival than without their efforts.

Mr. Morgan’s injuries and Mr. McNair’s death are truly tragic. Truck safety on the road needs improvement and corporations need to allow their drivers appropriate time for rest and travel. All vehicle passengers should be reminded to use their seatbelts. All drivers need to recognize when their driving ability is impaired due to fatigue or illness. We need to hope that future tragedies don’t happen.

I really believe that Mr. Sumwalt and Mr. Barth owe EMTs, Paramedics and all first responders an apology. Without our highly trained and skilled EMS responders, whether paid or volunteer, we would suffer many more losses and permanent disabilities.


The writer spent nearly three decades as a proud VOLUNTEER EMT and her family is complete with both career and volunteer first responders. Chelle Cordero is also the author of two EMS-based novels. Cordero writes a monthly column for 1st Responder News


This week’s Terrific Quote Day will appear tomorrow