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Duct Tape and WD40 Quick Fix for Toxic EMS Bases

—The Duct Tape and WD40 Solution

My inbox imploded . . .

FlightSafetyNet blog got pummeled with emails.

And that’s actually saying something since its one of the most highly read and popular blogs in EMS.

But it wasn’t all good news. . .

Some emails were damning. Like the one that spurred this article.

Here’s what happened:

This week’s scheduled blog post, “Ten Signs Your EMS Base Is Toxic” went live on Wednesday. 10 minutes later the email floodgates opened. Here is a link to the original article if you missed it: Ten Signs Your EMS Base Is Toxic

The article stirred a lot of emotion. EMS and air medical crews identified with it. Many had lived it.

Hope Is Not A Strategy

One email in particular got my attention.

It took me all the way back to my Army Infantry Officer days. I could literally hear Captain Chodur’s voice again:

“Lieutenant Shaffer, hope is not a strategy. You need to bring me solutions, not more problems. I got plenty of problems of my own. Do we understand each other Lieutenant?”

I always knew when Sam (Capt Chodur) addressed me by rank in one-on-one conversations, he was kindly telling me he meant it both as a friend and as my boss.

Captain Chodur was right 30 years ago, and the flight nurse who sparked this email, was right this week.

It’s not enough to just spur emotion. You have to give solutions too.

That’s what this article is about. A sort of “quick fix” for toxic EMS bases.

A Quick Fix For Toxic Bases

What do you do if your EMS or air medical base is toxic? What immediate action steps can you take to fix it?

Start here:

Implement a “Dropped Ball Policy.”

Remind yourself that your EMS and air medical employees always want to do well. When they mess up, it’s almost always unintentional.

What’s a “Dropped Ball Policy?”

A way to keep your EMS and air medical team members from demonizing themselves. A policy that in effect says “We expect mistakes, it’s part of life. Here’s how we deal with them when inevitably they occur. Smile, because you’re not even close to the first person to mess something up.”

Your policy should include both an emotional/spiritual process for dealing with self-judgment, as well as a strategic/tactical process for creating systems or environments that reduce the chance of the mistake being repeated.

Again, your assumption as an EMS or air medical manager must be everyone on the team cares and cares deeply, and that no mistakes are the result of sloppiness or laziness- they are either the result of

  • a) misunderstanding
  • b) learning curve
  • c) unrealistic deadlines or unrealistic work loads
  • d) personal stuff going on that is distracting
  • e) a frickin’ mistake!

Perfection belongs to the Divine. The rest of us carry erasers, compassion, and a dustpan.

Start with this policy or a similar one. You’ll be amazed by the trust, support, and respect it instantly establishes within your EMS or air medical team.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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Troy Shaffer
Troy Shaffer

About the Author: Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

    6 replies to "A Quick Fix for Toxic EMS Bases"

    • Bob

      Far easier said than done, Sir.

      Here in lies the problem.

      We know these conditions exist, however NOTHING, no type of “quick fix” can be applied due to the nature of the problems themselves!

      I would also point out that you forgot the letter F in your list of mistakes:


      I’ve seen it, felt it, experienced it, it’s real, it’s there, and it’s a big problem, and worst of all there is nothing, no “dropped ball” fixes will even come close to fixing the problems.

      It overwhelmingly frustrates me when I read these articles that do try to help those mired in these swamps out, and the most comical statement of all is “See your HR Representatives”

      Any Narcissistic dictator in a Program Director or EMS Manager role worth his weight will have HR firmly in their pocket, thus establishing a hot line to be notified of potential troublemakers or whistle blowers who need to be excised from a program faster than a cancerous tumor.

      Again, I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, I’ve lived it. The only solution to rid the workplace of these dictators is for them to be held accountable for their statements and actions, and for those above these animals to listen to the people out in the field actually doing the job, instead of their finely dressed and manicured “leaders” who couldn’t bandage their way out of a paper bag.

      I bet your inbox will implode even more with this one, you hit a nerve, my friend.

      • Troy Shaffer


        You’re right!

        Fixing a toxic workplace is much easier said than done. And obviously the issues at your particular workplace are very serious. I’m sorry to hear it. Truly sorry.

        You’re probably right again about my inbox imploding even more after today’s article. Unfortunately, all I can do is what I’m doing. The best I can do. Creating awareness of issues and offering some fixes to the problems will hopefully help some good folks. It of course cannot and will not help everybody; but hopefully it will help some.

        Unfortunately, from what I’m hearing about your situation, I don’t think it will help you. Again, I’m sorry.

        Thank you for taking time to comment and share your experience.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

        • Phil

          From personal experience: nothing will fix EMS until all the companies, even private transport services, fall under some sort of regulated and monitored profession – like truck drivers or common workers elsewhere.There is no HR where I work, my boss IS HR right next to the owner, and if I cross the wrong line I face being blacklisted all the way up to the state level because my boss is that well connected. There are no protections for us.

          • Troy Shaffer


            Thanks for sharing your experience. I’d like to believe EMS can fix itself without government intervention. I can’t thing of too many things the government has made better. I understand your perspective and feel your pain (like the rest of EMS and air medical), but I don’t believe government regulation is the answer.

            Again, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective.

            Clear Skies & Tailwinds

    • Frank Keener

      Always have these on hand in Alaska !!

      • Troy Shaffer


        You’re bringing back memories for me. I flew for the Coast Guard in Kodiak, AK. Lots of great memories.

        And for the record, duct tape and WD-40 work great in the lower 48 too!

        Thanks for commenting.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

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