by Samantha Hilker, PAAW Contributor
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
November 1, 2017 marks an unprecedented moment for EMS in Wisconsin. Four associations historically focused on their own specific agendas gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol with a common goal: moving EMS in Wisconsin forward. Although they didn’t know it at the time Patrick Ryan (PAAW President), Jerry Biggert (Chair of Wisconsin EMS Board) and Mahlon Mitchel (PFFW President) set this into motion over 5 years ago.
“They sat down together and agreed to focus energy on the 90% of EMS related items we can all agree on, and let the other 10% go to another day” explains Dana Sechler, Legislative Liaison and President for PAAW. Over the next several years the change was subtle and the action slow. Legislation affecting EMS was passed without known consultation of the various stakeholder groups -- and instead of assuming the other was to blame, the leaders of the EMS associations and organizations started talking to each other and asking how and why this could happen. Last year, a legislative study committee was formed to address the decrease in volunteerism in both EMS and Fire. Additional relationships were forged and strengthened between the stakeholders. Eventually, someone had the audacity to ask what we can do now, in this moment, to ensure stakeholder groups are consulted on legislation that directly effects EMS in Wisconsin. John Eich, Director at the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health, asked the question and provided the leadership needed to unite these four organizations and make EMS at the Capitol Day a reality.
Stronger together was the message of the day. This was expressed in the ability to celebrate the Community EMS bill passing unanimously through the Senate just one day prior, and reiterated during the Legislator Panel with Representatives Loudenbeck, Kolste and Shankland. (The Community EMS Bill also unanimously passed in the Assembly earlier this year and the Governor recently signed into law.) Each of the three Representatives echoed the importance of getting to know your elected officials and the power of stakeholder groups working together and sharing a clear, unified message.
Wisconsin EMS Day, November 1, 2017, State Capitol, Madison
For some participants, the biggest takeaway of the day was seeing so many private, hospital based, county and fire based EMS services, as well as 3rd party service providers and leaders in the same room with a common goal. Many young EMS providers hungry for change were musing at the collection of people in the room, while providers and leaders who have been in EMS for 20 years or more were awestruck looking at something they never thought they would see. Although there was a hint of apprehension leading into the afternoon visits, it seemed to melt away and be replaced with a certain sense of pride. On more than one occasion I heard attendees say they never would have put themselves in a room with the 2 or 3 people they met legislators with. They continued to report their individual surprise that they really did agree on many of the issues discussed, and found themselves listening to understand…instead of listening to respond.
Others had a slightly different takeaway; they saw their years of leadership expressed in their colleagues and team members.
“I’ve increasingly challenged myself to seek others with differing views…those on the fringe, outside my typical group of colleagues and peers. This approach not only provides unfamiliar perspective but leads to building relationships and better outcomes. EMS Lobby Day is another example of relationship building that inspires me to continue stepping outside comfort areas and hopefully challenges others to be more inclusive and collaborative as well.” reflected Jon Cohn, Greenfield Fire Department Chief, President of Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association.
On the surface, a group of professionals with the same “job” shared a day at the Capitol talking to politicians. A deeper look reveals the power of a conversation; the willingness to let go of the past and turn our attention towards a future full of possibilities. An exciting change for the veterans of EMS who never thought they’d see the day -- and the newcomers to EMS who will grow up in a culture of collaboration instead of territorial limitations.
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