Emergency Medical: Putting Public Safety First

05/18/2015 11:05 am ET | Updated May 19, 2016

Sami Abed, a paramedic with 13-years' experience in Santa Cruz County, Calif., was on his way home on a United Airlines flight on April 3, Good Friday, when he and a doctor on the flight sprang into action to help an unconscious passenger. They got him oxygen and used a defibrillator to revive him, and the plane was rerouted to get him to a hospital in Omaha.

For Sami, it was all in a day's work. But I think it's more than that. The heroic actions of emergency medical service workers is part of their DNA; it's who they are. In this case, Abed is president of United EMS Workers/AFSCME Local 4911, and that's also part of who he is -- a leader in our effort to raise the voices of these heroic first responders.

As we celebrate Emergency Medical Services Week (May 17-23), let's give a shout-out to the dedicated and hardworking paramedics and emergency medical technicians who make up the core of America's first responders. They work with firefighters, police officers, dispatchers and hospital staff to make sure the injured and sick survive, and recover.

Because EMS professionals care passionately about their work, and the communities they serve -- we're working hard to make sure they have a voice in patient care issues and a path to improving the profession. We represent 24,000 EMS workers in public -- and private-sector settings, and many more are seeking to organize with AFSCME because they understand that they are stronger working together through our union.

This is perhaps the most rewarding thing about representing public service workers -- the genuinely good work that our members do to help people in communities all across the country. That work is never more important, or more appreciated, than when emergency medical professionals answer the call.

The courageous and conscientious work of Sami Abed and many others is the norm in public service, which is why it infuriates me to hear right-wing politicians attack government employees and minimize the services we provide in communities. Our members are always ready to serve in times of need.

I find the actions and attitudes of EMS professionals to be inspirational, and each story I hear about their work seems more amazing than the last one.

Like Lisa La Russo, a paramedic who has been providing emergency care for 25 years in Riverside, Calif. Last year, after responding to a 911 call in which a 9-year-old nearly drowned, she was moved to try to educate young people about water safety.

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under 5 in Riverside, and responding to these tragedies has a profound impact on EMS professionals. After learning that the county did not have a program to educate kids, La Russo talked with her fellow employees about creating just such a program.

"Splash Medics" are now making the rounds in elementary schools in southern California, reading "Stewie the Duck Learns to Swim" and talking with youngsters about how they can safely navigate water. The motivation, like everything that EMS workers do, is to help people - in this case, vulnerable young people.

So let's take a moment this coming week to thank EMS professionals for all they're doing for us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They're always on call, and for that we should be eternally grateful.