Fakers, flaggers, and fighters.


“Ugh… you have got to be kidding me.”

On average, I say that about five times per tour. In this particular instance, I was (quite comfortably) slouched down in the passenger seat of Ambulance 12—returning from my fourth switch-out that night—when a woman ran out into the street, frantically waving one of her arms. The other, unsurprisingly, had her cell phone sandwiched to the side of her head.

I blinked twice, hard, as if to clear both the sleep from my eyes and the woman from my view. As I climbed out and grabbed a pair of gloves, I convinced myself that rolling my eyes was an Ancient Chinese Secret used to increase alertness—at least, that’s my story if anyone saw me do it.

Flaggings usually don’t amount to much. Granted, there’s the occasional “this guy was just shot,” or “she clutched her chest and fell down and now she’s not breathing,” but for the most part, being flagged down is akin to hailing a taxi on a day when it might rain: “…So, should we? Eh, maybe not, we can make it… oh, here comes one! Let’s get it anyways, since it’s here!”

Let’s not assume anything, though. I mean, she was quite the Samaritan: She ran out into the street, laughing at something on her cell phone (trust me, she was not speaking to a 911 operator); flagged us down; then barged past us into the storefront as we tried to find the patient, saying “Ooh, I gotta finish gettin’ my nails done!” Of course, she stepped over the unmoving supine figure on the ground, nearly skewering his skull with a stiletto in the process.

Quite the Good Samaritan, indeed.

Bystanders said he walked in and laid on the ground with no explanation. Okay, well he’s breathing. That’s good. Strong pulse, also good. Outwardly, there doesn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with him. Blood sugar? Well within normal limits. Maybe a heroin overdose? It’s fairly common, so let’s just take a look at his eyes…

Cue the Microsoft Word Paperclip Assistant. If you were to click “yes,” you would see a small list:

  1. Do not roll your eyes in the back of your head when I lifts your eyelids. It’s a dead giveaway.
  2. If I lift your hand up and then drop it, let it fall to the floor. Lowering it in a controlled manner is another silly move.
  3. Please do not let me catch you opening one eye to look around at what’s going on. I will tell you to stop wasting my time, as well as the time of the other ambulance, EMS supervisor, and the entire damned engine company who you woke from a nice deep sleep.

So into the ambulance we went. As expected, the patient miraculously “woke up” moments later and said he was fine. Now grinning from ear to ear and looking at the swarm of people gathered around, he kept saying that he didn’t want or need any medical treatment. No history, no complaints, no physiological problems, and not a care in the world.

“What happened? I fell down? I must’ve just passed out… long day, you know? Ha-HA!”

“Yes, sir, I do know. (sigh) Please just sign this.”



Hey, it could be worse. About a month ago, a man in Australia flagged down an ambulance (expecting just a ride, no treatment) and then attacked the crew when they wouldn’t take him where he wanted to go.

Damn. In America, the public is at least able to come up with some reason why they need to go to the hospital–whether it’s toe pain or a cough for two weeks, at least it’s a reason.

I first encountered “free taxi” syndrome when I worked in Pittsburgh. Let’s say you wanted to go visit your friend, but you don’t have a car or any money and he’s waaaay across town. So, call 911! Tell us you have something like elbow pain, and that you want to go to Allegheny General because your doctor’s there, or something. (Really, anything. As the patient, legally you’ve got plenty of leeway.) As soon as you get to ER triage, though, you can just sign out AMA* and walk to your friend’s house!

Wonderful, isn’t it?


  • Reason says:

    4th switch out of the night? Why don’t you just stay on the unit you started on? Didn’t a few of your guys die in 1999, at least partly because a lack of crew integrity?

    • raisingladders says:

      Well, I can’t speak to the incident in 1999, because I wasn’t with the Department then and I have no business discussing it here. The “switching-out” process is simply designed to provide a paramedic for a basic transport unit, while maintaining a fully-staffed engine company for fire suppression and BLS medical calls. Believe me, I’d love to stay on the engine all tour, but occasionally circumstances call for me to get on the ambulance for ALS care.

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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