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EMS Workers Save Lives and Communities

On EMS Week, let’s remember and give thanks to the many EMS professionals who save lives and make their communities better.
Previous Q&A With Johanna Puno Hester
By Pablo Ros ·
EMS Workers Save Lives and Communities
Robert Mills

Robert Mills was visiting relatives in southern New Mexico when he heard the sound of a crash. About 150 yards away, a neighbor riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) had driven into the side of a passing vehicle and was lying unconscious on the road, apparently unable to breathe.

“His face was kind of smashed in, and he looked like he was fighting to get air in,” Mills recalls. “It looked like his lungs were trying to catch breath but couldn’t.”

The car’s two passengers had stepped outside but didn’t know what to do, were standing there frozen. The victim’s wife and daughter had come running down the road and were hysterical. They were crying and screaming. Another person with a cell phone had called 911.

Mills didn’t have any medical training, but he’d heard that when a person is unconscious sometimes the tongue can block the airway. So he opened the man’s mouth and stuck his fingers in there.

“He was able to get some air in and started to come awake,” Mills says. “But he was pretty dazed. I lay him on his side so the fluids could drain out of his mouth, and he started saying, ‘Oh, God, help me! Oh, God, help me!’ I was trying to keep him from getting up. I said. ‘You need to stay down, you’ve been in an accident. But I believe God is helping you right now. We’ve got an ambulance on the way.’”

The victim survived, and no doubt God was on his side that day. But so were Mills and the paramedics who arrived shortly after. Mills says he felt so good about what he’d been able to do – save a person’s life – that when he came back to Independence, Missouri, he decided to change careers and become an EMT.

Since then, Mills has saved lots of lives, not just in his home city of Independence but as far away as Iraq, where he served as a medic in a unit of combat engineers whose mission was to find roadside bombs and neutralize them. Mills and his team worked around the clock, seven days a week, and for every 10 explosives they found, they were able to disarm seven of them before they went off.

“We were literally saving people, soldiers and civilians, from getting blown up,” Mills says. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Today, Mills works for American Medical Response (AMR) in Independence and is a member of AFSCME Local 1812. He is an active member of his union, he says, because it’s through their union that he and his co-workers can have a voice and make improvements to their profession, potentially saving even more lives.

“You absolutely need to have a collective voice,” he says. “We’ve learned this. We’ve tried to speak out without a union, on our own, individually. We’ve tried to make improvements, talk to the company, advocate for changes. But it doesn’t work unless you’re speaking collectively with one voice.”

Although AMR has a high turnover rate, Mills says he will stay in his job for the foreseeable future because he wants his city to have excellent ambulance service. Residents deserve it, he says, and he’s eager to make some progress.

“This is the best shot we’ve had, since we formed a union,” Mills says. “And we’re going to get there.”

On EMS Week, which was established in 1974 to celebrate EMS practitioners and the important work they do, let’s remember and give thanks to Mills and the many EMS professionals who save lives and make their communities better.

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