PUTTING ISSUES INTO PERSPECTIVE
Lessons on working together from a constant companion
By A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P
Ilost a great partner in December; perhaps the best I’ve ever worked with. He was strong and smart; he was always
ready and eager to go to work (early); he was a
quick and eager learner; he loved being a mentor to others; he took pride in his appearance
and uniform; he loved working with and calming the fears of children, the elderly and the
infirm; he always followed orders and suggestions presented to him; and he performed in
accordance with protocols and standard operating procedures. Most importantly, he was in
constant sync with me—mentally, visually and
audibly. He knew from a look or a hand signal exactly what equipment I needed him to
retrieve, what I needed him to do, and where
there was danger we needed to back away from.
The partner I lost was my 6 ½-year-old,
Mountain therapy dog Bernie. He was diag-
nosed with cancer in early December, and my
wife and I made the decision to put him to
sleep and send him to heaven because we didn’t
want him to suffer for one minute.
It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve
ever made in my life. I was devastated, and I
probably will be forever.
During the first few days of my grief, I sat
and reflected on all the good Bernie did while
attached to my hip at visits with his squad of
fellow therapy dogs at the San Diego Veterans Hospital.
He was a respected celebrity at the hospital
and many other places he went with me, and
he had few faults.
OK, so he peed on a hallway wall in the
hospital twice. It was an action that, by rules
of the Love on a Leash therapy dog training
approach, required that Bernie and I leave the
hospital immediately, so we both knew what
“we” did wrong.
It was humiliating for me both times it happened. I may have been embarrassed, but as
we exited the hospital, Bernie kept looking up
at me as if to say, “What? I own that hallway
and love walking down it every time we visit.”
Aside from those incidents, he was exceptional—so I gave him a pass and didn’t chastise him. I considered it my fault, not his. I was
the trainer who failed to prepare him for those
visits. From that point on, I restricted his fluid
intake the morning we visited the hospital, and
made sure I walked him several times before
each visit, so his bladder was empty.
Bernie died too soon but, during my reflective period, I had time to think about all of the
other great partners I’ve had during my 45
years as a paramedic. I wanted to share those
thoughts with you here.
PAR TNERS IN EMS
I’ve had countless partners, not all equal and
not all perfect. I worked in volunteer and paid
systems and didn’t always have a choice of who
my partner was.
Oddly, and perhaps not too wisely, EMS
is a profession where most of us don’t get to
request or bid for stations, districts or partners.
In the fire service, it’s rare to find an engine or
ladder company crew that hasn’t been working
together as a coordinated team for years. This
is the same in most aeromedical systems and
law enforcement/tactical teams.
In EMS, where we often don’t know who
our partner is until we arrive at work. We don’t
really work with partners; rather, we work with
associates—other individuals in our profession
who have received similar training, but who we
don’t truly know because we haven’t worked
with them regularly.
Consistency is an important concept that we
If you lead by example and mentor your assigned partner, you’ll find that they assimilate knowledge and
begin to act as you do. Photo A. J. Heightman