Homepage / Administration & Leadership / Arguing for Your Limitations - The Absurdity of the $15 EMT
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Administration & Leadership, EMS, EMS 2.0

Arguing for Your Limitations – The Absurdity of the $15 EMT

Oh my the world is swirling with anger over a burger flipper getting $15 an hour while our life saving, life risking EMTs are only making $10.

Friend of the blog Sean Eddy, in his piece at Uniform Stories.com, not only set a shot over the bow on this topic, I’d argue he has declared war and I hope he’ll have me as an ally.  Go read his piece here and come back when you’re good and angry.

Let’s start by putting down our pitch forks and signs and taking a deep breath.  Arguing for an hourly wage without taking into consideration total compensation is like arguing home run averages without looking at the final score of the game.  It tells a neat story about a brief moment but leaves out everything we need to know.

“Did you win?”

“I should get as many home runs as the other team”

Well, that makes perfect sense, Sparky.

If you aren’t making what you think you’re worth in EMS you have 2 options:

1) Move

2) Quit


“But Justin, it’s a calling.”  No shit.  I feel the same way.  That’s why when $4.35 an hour wasn’t cutting it I moved.  When $7 wasn’t cutting it I looked to promote and when $11.50 wasn’t cutting it I dragged my wife on a 20 hour truck drive to another time zone.  Now I make more than 10 times an hour what I did my first day on the job 20 years ago.  Benefits are far better too, but you aren’t asking for benefits, are you?

Don’t come at me with a sob story about how important EMS is to you.  We’ll take that as read.  We all want this job.  We tried really hard to get this job.  We love this job.  Apparently some of us just aren’t willing to put in the effort.

I want anyone who thinks they are underpaid to think about what you are asking for.  You are asking to be brought level with food service workers on an hourly wage.

What happens when 3 years from now, after still mismanaging what little you get, you want another raise?

You already argued for that and got it.

Richard Bach, in his book Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, describes exactly what you are doing when you scream and carry a sign demanding parity with a part time food service worker:

“Argue for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.”

You have set the ceiling and placed an arbitrary value on the service you currently provide.  Now, without increasing the value of that service I as your employer and community have no reason to increase your wage until you offer a better product.

“But Justin, aren’t we worth more than a kid flipping burgers part time?”

Not according to your own argument, no.

We’ve covered pay in EMS dozens of times in this forum and others and my answer will always be the same.  If you want more money, go make more and get a handle of your finances.  If you want a better wage, go find out what it takes to get hired with a better service who pays more and do it.

Don’t stand around with a sign demanding parity with yourself from 20 years ago.  Get into a class, find a mentor and break the downward spiral of setting yourself up for failure.

If it was up to me I would grant each and every one of the folks crying for $15 their request and do it happily.  Why?  Because now I know what they’re willing to work for instead of them bringing value that they can market at a higher rate.

Well done $15 gang, you argued for your limitations and, sure enough, they’re yours.


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  1. QWOT June 3, 2015 1:10 pm

    You’re right, Justin! We should just sit quietly and try to improve ourselves and not bother organizing. After all, just look how lousy RNs are doing with their unions…er…or the fire service with the IAFF, no complaining about salary or benefits from the IAFF or RN unions….um….

    EMS is more than just fire service; and when the private ambulance companies all offer the same salary level (convienent, that), how do we find that better salary?

    • thehappymedic June 3, 2015 3:09 pm

      Thanks for reading. Are you telling me that an entry level EMT in rural Tennessee is making the same hourly as in Alameda County California?
      Yes, we can try to organize but that is a far cry from waving a sign demanding parity with the food service industry. The better salary is out there but sadly many are poorly prepared and educated to be competitive in the hiring process so they’ll take the first gig that comes along and says yes. Those often have high turnover, poor conditions and a surprisingly steady supply of warm bodies willing to do it.
      So long as that ambulance company is required by law to turn a profit there will be little change, but don’t be fooled into thinking all companies pay the same. Branch out and look around, you’ll find something better.

  2. Joshua Tarplin June 3, 2015 5:32 pm

    I was a paramedic for a bit over twenty years, and when I retired I retained my EMT status. A bit over two years after retirement, I figured I’d get an EMT job with a local private ambulance service.
    Imagine my surprise when the owner of the aforementioned private ambulance offered me $14.40/hour as a staff EMT.
    I questioned him about the ludicrous offer for an experienced person such as myself. “Well, buddy,” he replied, “that’s the goin’ rate ’round here.”
    Screw that noise.

    • Justin June 4, 2015 12:34 pm

      And he knows full well the next kid in the door looking for an adrenaline rush will take that 14.40 and love it. For awhile anyways. Thanks for reading.

  3. Greg Friese June 4, 2015 5:17 am

    I would offer a third option…

    3) EMS related career without the patient care. There are a growing number of opportunities, especially for paramedics, to apply their EMS patient care experience in related professions. A few that come to mind – medical product engineering, medical product sales, marketing, and training, paramedic education, billing and accounting, data analysis, and much more.

    This is a great time to be a paramedic. Leverage your expertise, increase your education, minimize your household debt, and dive deep into the area where you think you can make a difference.

  4. Pingback: Maybe You Don’t Deserve More Money – A Guest Post | Life Under the Lights

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