My uncle, Mike Lattanzi, has been involved in EMT-related jobs for as long as I can remember. He’s shared stories of humor, horror and amazement with my family for years, and his job has never ceased to amaze me. He and my aunt recently bought their first house and I interviewed him on the wide deck that he’s begun repairing little by little. Like houses, no one is perfect, but Mike says that it’s his troubled past that prepped him for life as an EMT, and he loves his work.
I have always been someone who wants to help. It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I actually considered, why the heck haven’t I pursued being an actual licensed EMT?
Probably after having Geoffrey—the first-born—is when it really hit me, I want to do something in the medical field. And then I found out about this EMT school in Salem. It’s been over 12 years now since I did that course. From beginning to end it takes about six months so it’s not a long commitment, and I think it cost me like 1200 bucks, which is relatively good.
There’s definitely personalities that it’s not made for: if you’re skittish, or you have trouble touching people, or you can’t make eye contact. It’s a hands-on job. You’ve got to be comfortable with assessing people and sometimes, depending upon accidents, you’ve got to cut people’s clothes off. People who are nervous and shy generally don’t do well. But there’s also a lot of craziness that goes with it that you have to endure. I feel like a lot of my colleagues came from kind of a crazy upbringing where you never knew what was going to happen. My family was a little nutty so I feel like it prepped me for this kind of work.
The company I’m working for [is] a private company, but we have the most 911 contracts in this part of the state. There are certain days of the week that I’m dedicated to one town, Lynn; Lynn is everything that’s advertised. But I get to work in multiple 911 systems, so it’s kind of cool. I get to see the culture of different towns and cities. It still is exciting to me. I wish I would make more money at it.
There are people that move up and there’s always the next level—paramedic—but that’s more of a two-year program. Paramedics can push more drugs; they call it ALS, Advanced Life Support, where I’m Basic Life Support, BLS. I kind of regret not getting into this when I was younger, because I would have pursued that route. But for the cost of paramedic school it’s really not that much of a bump increase for me right now because I’ve been doing this for awhile. It’s not worth it. But you can get into training capacities. I’m an FTO, which is a Field Training Officer. (As an FTO, Mike helps new EMTs learn the hands-on portion of the job.) A lot of it can be boring sometimes, and mundane too. It’s not all excitement and glory.
When I work a dedicated shift to the 911 city of Lynn we have one base. Lynn is so crazy busy that at our peak we have four BLS trucks, EMTs like me, and two ALS trucks [paramedics]. EDPs, Emotionally Disturbed Person, [are the most common calls]. That’s pretty common too [overdoses], but EDP takes the kick, that’s the code we give over the air when we’re taking the report. EDP is in the realm of psychiatric; you know someone’s suicidal, homicidal. There’s a lot of times when we are told: respond with police; and you know not to get out of the truck until police are on the scene because there’s a violent situation going on. It’s weekly. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t do psych calls.
In a strange way it keeps things in perspective for me. This is something Chrissy (Mike’s wife) knows as well about me, that it makes me feel more gratitude, or it makes me feel better about myself when I see all the crazy out there, and when I see what people do to themselves and to one another just blows my mind. I go into apartments that are festered with bedbugs sometimes, and the conditions that these people are living in, and sometimes kids are involved.
I really wish I could get paid more money to do because I really enjoy it, but it’s very satisfying in a lot of ways, more than a lot of other jobs that I’ve had.
I work 40 hours a week, scheduled. And I pick up overtime. Monday when I’m dedicated to Lynn I do a 16-hour 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. We have bunkrooms. Peak times are usually between 11 and 7 (am to pm). Things can get crazy at 2 in the morning. I had a fire, a really big house fire, a three-decker about a month ago.
And so we get called immediately to the scene to stage, because people get hurt fighting fires. They don’t know if there’s occupants inside, so us and a medic truck get called immediately. You listen to it develop over the radio, you hear the tone go out, and they do three beeps for a suspected fire, so you know immediately. And then you wait for the arriving unit, who say smoke showing, heavy smoke showing, flames showing, so we jump into our ambulances and start making our way. I was there for four hours that night, because they’re fighting it for that long, it was that big. It was an inferno. Fortunately no one was hurt; they got everybody out. And Lynn fire department is an excellent fire department. They know their stuff; they’re well trained and they take pride. There’s yahoos anywhere you go, but compared to a lot of other towns, Lynn fire fighters are solid. (Nobody was hurt.)
The one cool thing too, when we go back to, when you’re dedicated as a 911 truck, you know that no matter how busy it gets, eventually you’re going to go back to the base, so you can take your food out of the fridge and heat it up, take a shower if you want to. You have to be ready to go (*snapping his fingers*) like that too, but there’s a bunk room for beds, and there’s a TV in the crew room, so you can have a little bit of zen time.
But when you’re working a transfer or impact truck, they can pull you all over the place. So when we get a call, say I’m an impact truck on Wednesdays, I could be doing emergencies in Lynn, Peabody, Salem, Marblehead, Swampscott…they could pull us down to our southern division in Everett, Chelsea, Malden, Revere… it becomes a lot more stressful I feel like when you’re doing impact trucks, because you’re having to scroll through multiple fire channels and communicate everything.
My very first cardiac arrest call I was able to bring the person back to life with a defibrillator and other equipment, and that was 11 or so years ago. Since that first cardiac arrest call, I’ve realistically probably done CPR about 40 times and not one of them have been a save. Most of the colleagues that I’ve talked to [say] you’re lucky if you get a couple of saves here and there. It happens, you hear about it, but they’re very rare.
That’s probably the biggest thing. I keep waiting for my next save. It just hasn’t happened. Hopefully I get to have [another] one.