No Work Today

I feel like I am unemployed. Everyday I check the pager. No shifts. Years ago when I lived in the Midwest and was a day laborer, I used to go down to the work office every morning. When things were good it was unloading trucks, roofing, or working in an plant – making frozen fast food sandwiches or assembling door knob packages. When it was slow, it was no work today. Come back tomorrow. Or maybe next week, we may have some new contracts. No work today. No work today.

Not so long ago, I could work everyday. Call in, make your own hours. I’m hoping this is just a convergence of a big class of new hires and the winter holidays. What I’ll need to do is start putting in my availability in advance. The good thing with that is, you’ll get the extra shifts. The bad thing is it ties you in to the shift. Once my name is in the book, I work it. I never book off.

Last year I made more in extra pay than in regular pay. I swore years ago, I would never get in a position where I had to work overtime, but that is a laugh now. Like just about everyone with any kind of time in EMS, I need the OT to survive.

Years ago, when I started, there was hardly any OT. The man who ran our company was an old fashion businessman, an original ambulance man, who hated to give up even a nickel to overtime. Everyone worked 3-12’s, so you had four hours a week of being held late before you qualified for OT, and he somehow attracted enough employees that there were very few extra shifts – the ones that were there went to part-timers and per-diems. Another thing was medics got to pick their partners back then, so everyone who worked together liked working with each other. No one would book-off because they couldn’t deal with their partner getting mad at them for sticking them with a new partner. If you were sick you sucked it out because you didn’t want to let your partner down, and you didn’t want him to let you down when he was sick.

There was an OT list you signed up for once a month. If you got your name first on the list, you were the first one called for any OT in each week of the month. That could mean four cake suburban OT shifts for the coming month. The list went up at seven in the morning. One guy used to get there at 5, and then someone came in at 4:30, and you know how it went. Those of ue who lined up were called overtime whores. The guy who always got there first waltzed in at 2:30 one morning thinking he had beaten us all. Two of us were sitting there already. Top o’ the morning to you. You all are crazy, he said.

Most people worked second jobs for other ambulance companies, of which there were many.

Then we were taken over by the big company that was buying up some of the other companies. The shifts went to 40 hours (5-8s or 4-10s or 2-12s and 2 8s) plus being assigned a partner not of your choosing ever six months. Things started to change. People took days off. They didn’t like their partners. There was more turnover. While the same company bought up most of the other companies, and then prevented its employees from working for the dwindling competition (some medics had worked for three different companies who were now all one), the lack of a second job was more than made up for by the available open shifts – overtime that paid time and a half.

It’s been a gravy train of overtime pretty much since. Sure there are dry periods — hopefully this is one of them — but the inevitable EMS turnover keeps us all in the bountiful slop. People leave for greener pastures, people get hurt, but mostly new people find out this isn’t always the easiest or best job — that not anyone can do this work. I’d have to look at our company’s seniority list to verify, but once you get to a certain number — a certain length of service, it is hard to get much higher. Anyone who has been here as long as I have – I’m starting my 12th year — isn’t going anywhere unless they break down physically. I think I’m actually also number 12 on the paramedic seniority list, and I am lucky to go up one notch a year.

It feels strange being off so much, growing a four-day beard, sleeping late, playing Mr. Mom – the girls and I went swimming again today — I kind of like it. I’m enjoying it while I can.

Because I need the work hours.


  • Brett says:

    Yeah I also hope the lack of shifts is temporary… the new bid is looking grim

  • Anonymous says:

    Hey Peter,

    I emailed you a while back from Canada, discussing the difference in EMS systems between yours and ours, which in my province is one provincially (i.e. state) run system.

    I found your comments regarding the EMS turnover interesting. By comparison, in our system we have 1400 full timers, and about 2200 part timers working in small towns. On our full time seniority list, the top 80 people have 30 years in, and I believe the top 240 people have 25 years in.

    It is tougher for the part timers to get full time. Currently, about 5 years of part time seniority is required to obtain a full time position!

    Happy holidays. I hope you are feeling better!

  • PC says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    I think our longest standing paramedic has been here 18 years, but that is about as long as there have been paramedics around here.

    While our benefits aren’t the best, the usually unlimited overtime means hardworking medics can make upwards of $100,000 a year.

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